Writers On Writing / Writing Suspense with Pamela Cook

“No matter what the genre, a story needs tension. If the reader knows everything up front, there’s no hook, no questions and no reason to read on.”
To learn how to hook your reader and keep them caught, join Pamela Cook in her Saturday 15 September workshop Turn Up The Tension.

Pamela Cook is a rural fiction writer with an array of published novels to her name.  Her first novel, Blackwattle Lake, was published in 2012 after being selected for the Queensland Writer’s Centre/Hachette Manuscript Development Program. She is currently working on her fifth novel, a women’s fiction titled Cross My Heart. Ahead of her one day course at Writing NSW, Turn Up The Tension, we spoke to Pamela about the necessity of suspense in all genres of fiction.

How did you get into writing fiction?
I completed a Master of Arts in Creative Writing at UNSW about fifteen years ago now and became totally hooked on fiction writing. Following that I did the First Page To First Draft course at Writing NSW with Jan Cornall and met a great bunch of people who I’m still in a writing group with. After spending around six years working on a literary fiction novel I wrote a more commercial novel as part of Nanowrimo in 2009 and was accepted into the Hachette/QWC Manuscript Development Program for that novel, Blackwattle Lake, in 2012. Since then I’ve had four novels published and have just completed my fifth.

Why do you think that suspense is an essential part of a successful book?
No matter what the genre, a story needs tension. If the reader knows everything up front, there’s no hook, no questions and no reason to read on.  Crime and Thrillers thrive on the ‘whodunnit?’ premise. Fantasy novels are usually about a ‘will they make it’ quest. Romance is all about the ‘will they or won’t they?’ We read to find out what happens next.  There’s the overall suspense of the larger story but then there are the smaller tension-filled moments in each chapter and on every page that keep the reader enthralled.

What are some noteworthy ‘tense moments’ from your favourite works of fiction?
I’m a very eclectic reader, and read anything from contemporary to historical, romance to literary fiction. I love the way Liane Moriarty sets up her stories, always keeping the reader guessing. The Husband’s Secret and Big Little Lies both kept me glued to the page from beginning to end. Jane Harper did an excellent job of creating tension in The Dry—that prologue is completely gripping. There are a few scenes in State Of Wonder by Anne Patchett that I find totally gripping and the tension created by Hanya Yanigihara in A Little Life—the way she uses backstory to pull the reader through the story is sheer genius. I’ll be using examples from some of these novels—and more—in the workshop and focusing on both macro and micro tension to keep the pages turning.

Turn Up The Tension with Pamela Cook will take place at Writing NSW on Saturday 15 September, 10am-4pm. Book your spot here >

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