Apologies for a short post today! We’ll make this part one of a two-parter.
A young woman takes a wrong turn while driving through an unfamiliar neighborhood in bad weather. A child chases his ball into the neighbor’s yard, only to see something he shouldn’t. An older couple misses their stop, and gets off the subway at a deserted stop.
Do any of these sound like part of a great story? Mistakes create such wonderful opportunities for writers to put characters into risky, challenging, or otherwise interesting situations. Bad decisions, accidents, and mistakes of all kinds can build suspense by increase pace or increasing tension (or both). Mistakes can act as a red herring, leading the reader to draw false conclusions while also allowing the writer to maintain their “contract” with the reader (following the general tropes and rules of the genre and explaining deviations at some point).
Mistakes provide possibilities for the writer to create authenticity in what might otherwise be a very unreal kind of tale. By creating authenticity, the writer brings the reader closer to the story; who hasn’t taken a wrong turn or missed a stop? Well-crafted mistakes, used judiciously, can wrench a visceral reaction from the reader, particularly a reader who has become attached to a character, drawing the reader ever closer to the story and keeping them engaged right to the last word.
How do you like your suspense? Do mistakes work for you as a reader?