Reordering Scenes to Add Suspense

I’ve made over 3600 words of cuts this week. I’m trimming the fat, getting rid of a few scenes that I think weren’t helping to keep the main story moving.

The main issue I’m having right now is knowing the exact line where the story begins. I have quite a few scenes that I think are going to be cut as backstory. Some might be saved for later, to be used either in flashbacks or in future short stories. At least one has enough good material in it that it would be a pretty good short story by itself.

The other issue, and my concern during today’s revisions, is what to do with the structure and order of the remaining scenes. The early chapters don’t flow from one to the other as well as I’d like. The middle of the book (where I’d really gotten into the flow of things, and knew where the main plot was headed) has a good back-and-forth flow between each of the characters, building the ongoing story while maintaining a strong level of suspense between them. The early chapters, however, have a few spots that drag, and a few spots with poor transitions.

Sol Stein, in his book “Stein on Writing,” says that “suspense is achieved by arousing the reader’s curiosity and keeping it aroused as long as possible.” He suggests always ending a chapter with some unresolved tension and danger, and then introducing a new kind of danger in the next chapter. In a book like mine where there are multiple character POVs, I am trying to follow this advice by cutting from one character to the next as often as possible.

What this basically means is that I’m ending a chapter with Tock in some bad situation, then starting the next chapter with Gabby. I then end Gabby’s chapter without resolving whatever situation she is in, and I cut back to Tock. At no point should the reader be left thinking that either Gabby or Tock is safe, sound, and secure, with no problems remaining.

The middle of the book does this quite well. I switch back and forth between various dangerous situations. There is always a moment where you’re in a new chapter thinking “But what about what was going on in the LAST chapter!?!?” This is a great way to increase tension and suspense.

I need to figure out how to do this with the early parts of the book. I’m working out some ideas now. Most of it involves changing the order of scenes, and choosing where each chapter ends and the next begins. When combined with cutting the scenes that are dragging the pace down, this should result in an overall stronger and better paced opening.

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