When my son was little, every night before he went to sleep I would read him a story from his favorite book of Bedtime Tales. Afterwards, he would close the book and ask me to leave his room just so my husband could go in and tell him another story. A story that he would make up on the spot. It would be a story involving people my son knew and came in contact with every day, either from the supermarket or his sister’s friends from school. It would mainly be an adventure story with him as the main character or the hero. On some nights I would stand outside his door and listen. More often than not he would interrupt the story to make a suggestion or change something in it, while at other times he would laugh his heart out at the things his father told him. When he got too tired or sleepy my husband would stop, only to pick up the next day from where he had left the night before.
And I thought, as restless and hyper that my son was, the only thing that kept him entertained was the story. He was only two years old then and like Scheherazade’s tyrant husband in One Thousand and One Nights, he anxiously waited for his story. Scheherazade avoided her fate because she knew how to keep her intolerable husband in suspense- the only literary tool that had any effect upon him.
Suspense is the basis, the backbone of every story. It is what makes the reader want to know more, it is what makes the reader turn the page to find out what’s next, it is what makes the reader continue to read.
The stories that my son was interested in, like most kids his age are, were stories of action and adventure and suspense. They did not involve supernatural beings or extraordinary powers. They were about people he met in the supermarket when he went shopping with us, and who spoke with him. Or other parents we spoke to when we took his sister to school. They were people he could associate with and places he could relate to, and thus he could get excited about the things they did and said and what happened to them in these stories. Because that was his world then.
Sidney Sheldon writes:
“Basically I consider myself a storyteller. I won’t let anything get in the way of the story.
I try to write all my books so that when the reader gets to the end of the chapter, he or she must turn one more page and begin a new chapter.
What I do is to put my characters into situations that are so precarious there is no way to get out. And then I figure how to get them out.
What all of us must do is get an idea that excites us and then write the hell out of it. Write it as well as you know how. And if you hit a nerve, and it’s true, then you have a chance.”