A while back, the editors of The Lascaux Review contacted me and requested a 250 word essay--anything related to writing--to be published during their annual flash fiction contest. This is what I came up with:

http://www.lascauxflash.com/2013/03/suspense-starts-with-character....

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What you should do is create three-dimensional characters that the reader cares about. Then suspense is easy.

Agreed, but how to create 3-D characters the reader cares about? A good topic for another day, I think.

About the withholding of information: it ratchets up mystery rather than suspense, but I don't see anything wrong with that, so long as you, the author, know what you're doing. And as a reader, I love mystery as much as I love suspense.

Now if you withhold info from the characters, as opposed to the reader, then you can heighten suspense. Think of a bomb the reader knows is about to go off, but the characters don't. (Dramatic irony, I think it's called.)

About the withholding of information: it ratchets up mystery rather than suspense, but I don't see anything wrong with that, so long as you, the author, know what you're doing. And as a reader, I love mystery as much as I love suspense.

Agreed. And if the information is some sort of big reveal, then sometimes it should be withheld. But I think you know what I'm talking about. These little teasers some authors employ, trying to trick the reader into turning another page by presenting a question for which the answer (kept secret for a chapter or two) is largely insignificant. It's just annoying, IMO.

I hadn't thought of it this way, but yur article and Eric's comment describe why I've come to prefer third-person POV to first: I can tell the reader everything (or damn near), so the reader knows more than any single character. Suspense is built when the reader knows what the character is up against and the character does not, or when the reader sees the character about to make a mistake that seems reasonable to the character, but the reader knows could be catastrophic.

But, as Jude said, if people don;t care about the characters, it doesn't matter.

I have a feeling that 1st person works better for novels where the reader wants to know how the poor schmuck will get out of the awful mess he's in. Dick Francis used it that way and those books were page turnrs.

I agree. First person is the way to go in many cases, especially for PI fiction, where seeing and learning as the character does are critical. 

Jude,

Your article is spot on.  I see withholding information as something that is relevant to the moment that the main character (in 1st person) knows or in 3rd person that the narrator knows and is not given.  Although, Holmes withholds information from Watson all the time and it seems to work.

Brian, you may have hit upon a key element of Doyle's craft in the Sherlock Holmes stories. Watson is essentially telling us someone else's story. Holmes's habit of not letting Watson in on what's going on allows Doyle to hold back his reveal and the reader doesn't feel cheated. It's Watson we're listening to, and he couldn't tell us that key element because he didn't know. Had he used Holmes as a first-person narrator and held back that detail, it would have been a cheat.

Yes, but how utterly irritating is Holmes to the reader?

Anyway, those books aren't very good.

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