Pamela Cook is a city girl with a country lifestyle and too many horses. Her rural fiction novels feature feisty women, tangled family relationships and a healthy dose of romance. She has published four novels and has taught writing workshops around Australia.
What role does tension play across your novels?
Many people think tension is purely for thrillers and suspense novels, but it should be there no matter what the genre. I try and create tension from page one by having my protagonist in a situation where there is clear conflict. What will she do? How will she respond? One of the main ways I use tension is through backstory – hinting at something in the character’s past that is a huge source of internal conflict but not saying exactly what it is straight away. Once the reader is hooked into the storyline the backstory can be scattered like breadcrumbs to keep the reader interested, and build to the climax.
In your opinion, which authors are masters of tension?
I recently read The Dry by Jane Harper and was blown away by the tension she created from the very beginning in the prologue (those blowflys!). Liane Moriarty is great at building up tension through her storyline – keeping the reader guessing right to the end. In State Of Wonder Ann Patchett creates tension through character conflict, dialogue and setting. Hanya Yanagihara’s masterpiece A Little Life is filled with tension, centred around the character of Jude. The bites she gives us about his past in the early stages of the novel keep us wondering what happened and create a sense of foreboding.
What’s one key tip for increasing suspense on the page?
Hold back. Too often as writers we feel we have to explain everything to the reader. Of course we want to give them enough detail to draw them into the story and to avoid confusion. But if we give so much information there is nothing left to guess about then there’s no tension and no hook. The reader will be bored. This especially comes into play when revising. Cut out all unnecessary words, pare back the dialogue and give only as much detail about the characters as the reader needs at that point in the narrative. It’s like saying to someone ‘hey, I’ve got a secret’ and then feeding them clues rather than revealing it straight away.
Join Pamela for her course Turn Up the Tension on Saturday 11 November, 10am-4pm, at the Centre.