How and where may a writer cut scenes to raise tension and keep the reader up late at night?
Studying the thriller A Wanted Man, I notice that author Lee Child cuts the scene right after the moment when the characters realize that the stakes are ramped up. FBI Agent Sorenson, investigating a kidnapping, says to her investigating partner,
“She’s seen their faces. They’ll kill her.”
Structurally, we’d expect to see our characters react to this raising of the stakes, but Lee Child cuts the scene right there. He doesn’t show the investigators’ reactions because our reaction will be just the same as that of the investigating team. In this way Child causes tension to rise even more sharply when we readers feel the fear for the kidnap victim first hand, rather than second hand through narration.
If a character’s reaction had been different from the reader’s reaction—for example, if an antagonist felt guilt, calculation or satisfaction about the hostage’s situation, or even if the two investigating characters had experienced differing individual reactions—then we would observe those strange reactions and make deductions and judgements, again involving us deeply.
I hope it’s another brilliant writing week for you. Cheers Mel.
A version of this blog first appeared at pulpliterature.com
This week from @yourwritingmuse: Readers will never forget your showdown in Act 3. All your structure work really pays off. From your fan, your Writing Muse.