Sequence of Events in a Story: How to Order Scenes That Build Suspense

The article Sequence of Events in a Story: How to Order Scenes That Build Suspense materialized first on The Write Practice.

Have you ever felt chiselled when reading a book? Like the author held back information that would have enhanced your read know? Or forgotten to include all the relevant items that would have allowed you to solve the mystery? Did the string of affairs in the narrative feel . . . off?

sequence of events in a story

Think about this 😛 TAGEND

What if J.K. Rowling neglected to have Hagrid tell Harry about his parents’ deaths until the end of The Sorcerer’s Stone?

What if the writers of Die Hard had made Hans Gruber discover Holly was John McClane’s wife right up front?

What if Suzanne Collins had forgotten to alert readers to a rule change allowing tributes from the same district to prevail as a unit in The Hunger Games?

Leaving out these vital pieces of information–or frame them in the wrong place–would have stripped these stories of a full measure of suspense, monotonous the impact of their final scenes.

As a columnist, you never want books to feel misled or disappointed by your diary. But how can you make sure you include all the relevant parts of the dilemma, in the correct tell, to sustain suspense and fill your reader?

The Sequence of Events in a Story Makes a Difference

The chronological order of events in a tale is not always the best way to deliver the information to the reader. I retain speaking passings in William Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily in a college literature route. I felt struck by the way Faulkner moved his narrative around in time, creating a complex, multi-dimensional construe experience.

Faulkner was a master, and worthy of study, though I’d be leery about trying to imitate the advanced technique he is set out in A Rose for Emily. He began his narrative at the penultimate instant of the story–Emily’s funeral–and then put-upon flashbacks, rushing back and forth in time, causing his viewpoint character relate the series of events until the final, disclosing scene.

My main takeaway from this was that novelists are unstuck in time, able to move around and present the events of a story to the reader in various ways. I became fascinated by the subject.

Since then, I’ve studied and experimented with various methods used for delivering information to the reader. In this article, I’ll share access you can develop your own techniques for manufacturing sure your reader gets all the portions of the perplex, in optimal degree, to achieve the effect you desire.

“ Join Joslyn Chase as she teaches how you are eligible to make sure your reader gets all the cases of puzzle, in optimal say, to build suspense in your record. Tweet this

Please keep in attention that all the skills and techniques of being an effective writer are intertwined, impossible to fully isolate.

I’m attempting to pull out the various topics for the purpose of teaching. The proper sequencing of contests in a story is very tied up with using engaging deep POV details, developing a sympathetic character , establishing identifiable ventures , and foreshadowing .

The Reader as an Active Participant

Readers get the most satisfaction from reading a story when they are engaged as active participants. Many causes go into making this happen. One of the most critical ingredients is information flow–when a novelist delivers everything the book wished to know, in a timely fashion.

Given the right information, at the right time, books should be able to follow the rising action, compute significance, and foresee possible sequels, letting them interact with story episodes and references in a real way. This is important, whether you’re telling a joke, restyling a fairy story, or writing a complex novel.

An effective flood of information permits readers to forget they’re reading, and only be inside the story. Because everything they need is delivered just as they need it , good-for-nothing boots them out of the fictive experience.

It’s imperative to establish depth, distinguishing stage and specifying from within your viewpoint character’s head, rather than describing from an external perspective. Too, make sure you engage your reader’s affections with a main attribute they can support and something crucial at stake.

You might think of these steps like fastening the seatbelt that belts readers in and educates them for the changes and turns ahead.

Let’s take a look at how sequencing contests in a fib will allow you to engage the three modalities that entertain readers and move the legend forward.

Suspense, Surprise, and Curiosity

How a scribe says the events in a scene can determine a reader’s response to the story.

There are three main responses a book could feel: expectation, surprise, or curiosity. Let’s examine this by changing around the order of the following entry four occasions in a scene 😛 TAGEND

Darren sections the damper position on Flora’s car. Flora leaves the house and climbs into her auto. Flora starts the car and steers it down the mountain pass. Flora’s car starts the patrol railways and she crashes to her demise.

Suspense depends upon adding something for the book to worry about and delaying the outcome, opening them is necessary to agonize and anticipate. So, one channel you might order phenomena to foster suspense by becoming right down the roll, episodes one to four.

As readers, we ascertain Darren tamper with the brake path and we feel Flora’s peril as she leaves the house and gets into the car, unaware of what awaits her. As she starts down the mountain pass, our concern and prospect germinate. What will happen? Will she find a way to stop the car from careening over a face? Right up until the moment the car sinks over the edge, we wonder if she’ll throw herself clear or stop the car somehow.

If you’re going for surprise, however, a better representation would begins with the second event.

We see Flora leave the house and drive down the mountain. We’re surprised when the car picks up fast, veering out of control, and Flora detects the dampers don’t work.

Depending on how long you render Flora to wrestle with the car, we either don’t have time to prepare for the jolt as Flora skippers over the face, or we get a little buildup of expectation as we hope she find a practice to save herself. Either way, the narrative place resolves when the information contained in the firstly event is revealed to the reader.

On the other hand, you could leverage curiosity by starting with the fourth event.

We witnes Flora’s car sound and explode into a fiery projectile. We ask why did this happen? Was it an accident or murder? Who is responsible? How did they reach it? A reader’s curiosity rises and carries them forward while anticipation flowers as the answers–revealed in affairs one, two, and three–are delayed.

It’s a good feeling to incorporate a few surprises into your legend, and to use curiosity to perk the issues of your reader. But apprehension establishes the best mainstay. The prospect of danger is more emotionally involving than the peril itself.

“ The string of affairs in a storey establish three modalities that entertain books: anticipation, surprise, or curiosity. But, anticipation utters the best mainstay. Learn why in this post! Tweet this

Sudden violence electrifies but can’t sustain an emotional outcome and increases with repetition and period. Curiosity will tremble, if it’s not backed up by apprehension. These three modalities together make a great team, but tell suspense be the primary driving force in your story.

Whichever you choose as your main modality for manipulation each place, suspense will play into it as readers receive information and use it to formulate projections about what will happen next.

Don’t Withhold Important Information

Lisa Cron’s book Wired for Story, is organized on a Myth/ Reality basis. Here’s one of the Myths she frames forth 😛 TAGEND

Withholding information for the Big Reveal is what keeps books hooked.

And here’s the Reality:

Withholding information very often robs the story of what really robs readers.

She follows up by admonish, “If we don’t know there’s intrigue afoot, then there is no plot afoot.”

To get a better idea of what this represents, let’s try an experiment.

First, I’ll sketch out a scene where I’ve withheld some information, speculating to better surprise my book with it later 😛 TAGEND

Gerald calls a used gondola dealership and checks out several mannequins. He selects an old Mustang, but the slick merchant tries to interest him in a Corvette.

Finally, the willing marketer lets Gerald make the motor of the Mustang as they go out for a test drive.

Gerald is not astonished. The car makes a knocking sound and razzes lower on the framework than it should. He thinks about taking a second look–popping the hood, checking out the trunk–but decides it’s not worth his time.

The piece of information I obstructed from the book is that the marketer has seized a woman and has her gagged and bind in the trunk of the Mustang. He’s ready to vehicle her when his workday ends.

By withholding that information until the end of the background, I could get a decent cliffhanger with a surprise gist. I could have the peddler wait until Gerald leaves and then open the trunk to show the feared maiden inside. Not bad.

But, I recollect I can get more mileage out of it–and more suspense–by let the book know about the victim beforehand.

That way, every subtlety during the sales talk, every bump on the test drive, and that minute when Gerald thinks about opening up the case are rife with expectation, preceding the reader to anticipate possible outcomes.

The Standard Murder Mystery

As columnists, we get to choose which affairs to include, and how to tell them. In a standard murder mystery, the main events might narrate like this 😛 TAGEND

Something happens to give the murderer a motive Assassin makes a plan and obtains a weapon Murderer kills the victim Someone discovers the body The detective arrives on the background and starts amassing evidences The detective interprets clues and expands police investigations The detective solves the crime

Writers can present events in that succession, but it’s often more interesting to mix them up. Choosing to divulge the root of the motivating toward the end of the story will build anticipation and keep the reader approximate about the “why” of the crime.

It’s intriguing how past affairs have ravaging, far-reaching results, and the anticipation of discovering that precipitating event grips readers.

Two Activities to Study Sequence of Events in a Story

Let’s look at two employs that will help you understand more about how to say phenomena in a floor to achieve the effect you want.

One of the exercises–the study of chronology versus presentation–examines the overall big picture.

The other exercise–dealing with the flow of details–focuses on the micro view.

1. Chronology Columns Exercise

One way to determine the roots of a crime and study how incidents are ordered to created anticipation and maximum dramatic consequence, is to use a Chronology Columns exercise. This will help you understand how writers introduced occurrences to their readers in the fibs you admire.

Start by creating a worksheet with two towers. This will serve as a kind of graphic organizer. Register contests into the left-hand column as the author presented them in the narration. In the right-hand column, prescribe happenings as they actually happened. Last, study the interplay between the two columns.

As an example, let’s do a basic Chronology Column exercise for the movie Flight Plan.

I chose Flight Plan because the events in the legend see so unconnected and vex, yet when you understand the impetus behind them, the inexplicable draws ability. It’s interesting to see how that is accomplished.


Flight Plan Case Study Exercise One: Chronology Columns

Here is a graphic that shows the sequence of occasions in the tale Flight Plan. I like to use what I call a Chronology Column to determine this.

The death of Kyle’s husband built no appreciation to her. She hadn’t seen indicates that indicated he might make his own life. While in that bereaved and mystified district, her daughter is taken away from her as well, further battering her, emotionally.

Viewers, along with Kyle, try to figure out what’s really going on, located upon the information that comes to light. That delivery of evidences extends us down a move to conjecture Kyle must be delusional. But when she breathes on the window and ascertains her daughter’s mind, we know we must search for answers in a brand-new direction.

The big expose comes when Carson rends out the lining of the coffin, exposing the bombards. That starts a rapid piecing together of events that takes us on a breathtaking razz to the finish line.

Do you see how the writers set occurrences to capitalize on suspense? They exploited all three modalities–surprise when Julia disappears, curiosity when we wonder what happened to her, and anticipation as the strata narrated and the outcome is delayed.

Do you be seen to what extent you might order the events in your floor to achieve a same gist? Take some time to study stories you found dazzling, retell them, analyze them with this exercise, to see how the author presented occurrences versus their chronological order.

2. Micro View of Item Exercise

We’ve examined the big picture of how episodes were laid down by in the movie Flight Plan. But there’s more to effective datum flowing than the order of operations. Within each incident, each place, you need to be constantly shepherding the narrative parts, delivering relevant information and raising brand-new questions to give readers what they need to actively participate in the story.

As an exercise, try watching the opening of a movie and detailing the string of phenomena to see what you learn from it. I’ve done this with Die Hard, Back to The Future, The Sixth Sense, Raiders of The Lost Ark, The Terminator, and Flight Plan.

To show what I convey, let’s walk through the opening representations of Flight Plan to see how it renders viewers what they need in order to predict and predict outcomes.

Flight Plan Case Study Exercise Two: Micro View of Item

The movie opens with Kyle Pratt sitting alone on a Berlin metro platform. Her frozen stance and the look on her face tell us she’s terrified, fighting with some huge damage. Curiosity grasps us as we begin to wonder what it is.

Her husband arrives, and she takes his hand, but the remote point of view and camera slants make it feel weird. We believe all is not as it seems and wonder what’s going on.

She arrives, alone again, at the mortuary. The conductor escorts her to an open coffin, and we attend her husband’s body laid down by. We understand he was killed in a descent when the conductor apologizes, showing there had been some damage to his head. He notifies Kyle to enter an electronic system, sealing the coffin for ferry, and we know she’ll be accompanying his mas back home.

As Kyle leaves the morgue, she is again joined by her husband, and we understand that he appears only in her imagination, facilitating her to cope with losing him and left alone in a foreign country during this time of distress. We wonder about the circumstances of his death and what will happen next.

They walk home together, and she invites him if they can sit in the courtyard. As she clears snow from the bench, blackbirds fly and she gapes up to the roof. We imagine that’s where he came to his death.

In the accommodation, she lies in bunked with her young daughter, solacing and reassuring her, closing the dangles against strangers who might intrude. We feel her maternal instinct to desire and protect.

The apartment is naked, everything parcelled into boxes. There is a bleak, bereft feeling. Kyle takes some lozenges. We understand they’re some kind of prescription to help her through. We get a glimpse of her work button and know she works for Elgin Aircraft.

As the representations narrated, little things reveal important flakes of information and raise questions so we’ll continue watching to find more bits of information. Delivering those flecks on the right timeline and in the right order is what keeps us sucked in the story.

You can do the same thing with your story, consuming these two exercises–the Chronology Columns and the Micro View of Details–to help you study and formation happenings to create the effect you miss. Or troubleshoot a scene that isn’t working. Or simply learn from the masters.

“ Learn how to build suspense in your work by organizing the string of events in a tale. This pole uses the movie Flight Plan to study this. Tweet this More Ways Than One

Suspense works best when you set up multiple possibilities for your courage. The reader needs to be able to identify more than one potential aftermath, ideally at least one positive and one negative. Worry increases when the negative upshot seems the more likely, especially as you raise the ventures , increasing the odds against your hero.

Readers are hardwired to predict what’s going to happen in a legend, and they revamp their assumptions as the floor progresses. As novelists, we have the power to disclose information in a way that will guide their predictions in a particular direction.

We can make it look like the undesired outcome is more liable to happen. At the same time, we make it difficult to imagine how the desired outcome could ever be achieved. We do this by the way we deliver info, using foreshadowing and well-planted setups so that the eventual outcome feels natural and logical.

In future commodities, we’ll take a closer look at how to use foreshadowing, clues, red herring, and other maneuvers to enhance story sequence and direct the reader’s attention where we want it.

Suspense, the Renewable Resource

There is an feeling factor in anticipating an outcome–either frightful or excitement. That’s what becomes it possible for us to read, watch, or listen to the retelling of a storey more than once and again enjoy it. The elements of suspense are still at work, triggering the sentiments of prospect, because the reader is an active participant.

Whether you’re working on a short story, a story, or anything in between, when you construct your writer’s toolbox by studying and rehearsing the common core of talents you’ve learned from this serial of articles, you become empowered to create immense legends compressed with uncertainty. Something that will thrill books and keep them coming back for more.

I encourage you to try the two practices I outlined in this article: Chronology Columns and Micro View of Details.

Not merely will you learn a great deal, but you’ll be improving your writer’s brain to deliver information to your book in effective courses, honing your sequencing skills.

Be sure to bookmark this page and remain aria! The next section is all about cliffhangers–you don’t want to miss it!

Do you use the sequence of occurrences in a fib to employ a specific emotion in the book? How do you do this? Let us know in the comments.


Let’s focus on the sequencing the actions of your opening. Exerting the story hypothesi and person you’ve developed for the book you’re writing in conjunction with this series, “ve been thinking about” the micro flood of details you’re rendering readers from the beginning.

Are you predicting your reader’s needs? What items must they have at this phase in the narration to keep them turning pages? What should you tell them to raise questions now and predict asks down the road?

Read aloud. It helps you come at your own work from a reader’s perspective.

Spend fifteen minutes writing this opening.

When you’re done, examine the opening and revise as necessary to provide a clear and compelling flow of information. When “youve finished”, if you just wanted to, you may post your work in the comments. And don’t forget to give your fellow writers some feedback and spur!

The article Sequence of Events in a Story: How to Order Scenes That Build Suspense loomed first on The Write Practice. The Write Practice – The Online Writing Workbook

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