Gasoline on the Fire

Gasoline on the Fire

I’ve been working on techniques to improve the tension in my narrative, and was thinking back to the point of view techniques of two different authors: Stephen King in Mr. Mercedes and Jo Nesbø in The Snowman.

As he builds to the climax in Mr. Mercedes, he gives us a series of vignettes, each from the point of view of a different character. Each of them sees roughly the same scene, so we are held in limbo, narrative time on pause as we journey through the character’s minds. This cliff’s edge clarifies each character’s stakes, and heightens the breadth of the risk if the killer should succeed. In my book, I was able to do much the same, with multiple characters experiencing a moment of frightening violence. (Selections from this section were what I read at Crime Wave!)

Another technique that I admire is the one Jo Nesbø uses at the end of a number of his chapters in The Snowman. To drive up tension, he inserts a short scene at the end of the chapter in the killer’s mind. This gives us a not-so gentler reminder that he’s still out there, still hunting, still eluding the police. So no matter how safe the other characters think they are, the reader knows what waits for them. It’s effective because it’s so brief, just a hint of danger, like showing that you have a gun, but not brandishing it.

It’s been fun making POV work for me, driving up narrative tension, and pouring gasoline on the rising action fire.

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