A little while ago, I received the psychological thriller The Trajectory of Dreams, from Nicole Wolverton. I really enjoyed the book, and the twists and turns the book throws at you. Gone Girl fan? Take a look at The Trajectory of Dreams for sure!
Nicole Wolverton was gracious enough to write a guest post for me about suspense vs. surprise, AND you can win a signed copy of her book and a bookmark. Don’t forget to check out the other tour stops for some more amazing prizes!
Writing suspense can be tricky. During the editing process of THE TRAJECTORY OF DREAMS, my editor and I had a long discussion about the pay-off of a thriller. Surprise and suspense are two different things, and it’s important to understand the difference.
There’s a great interview with Alfred Hitchcock in which he talks about surprise, suspense, and mystery. According to him, emotion is the key factor in suspense, but with mystery it’s “a sort of intellectual puzzle” that is “devoid of emotion.” And when it comes to suspense versus surprise, Hitchcock uses the example of a bomb under a table that explodes; if the audience knows about the bomb, it’s suspense . . . but if not, it’s surprise. I don’t think it’s a shock that Hitchcock prefers suspense, likely because of the heightened emotional state.
THE TRAJECTORY OF DREAMS depends on a heightened emotional state to build suspense. I chose to write the novel from a first person point-of-view (that of Lela White) very specifically so the reader would be trapped inside the brain of a person with a serious mental disorder. It’s a very claustrophobic place to be—Lela rationalizes things that are completely socially unacceptable and, in a lot of cases, pretty terrible. There’s the suspense of knowing what Lela is doing and what she’s thinking, worrying about what she might do to her co-workers, the people she stalks, and the other people in her life. There’s also the suspense of knowing Lela’s an unreliable narrator, so you have the added suspense of wondering how much of what’s going on in the book is real or in Lela’s head.
That said, there’s some surprise in the novel as well. Some of the early reviewers have gotten to the end of the novel and been completely shocked at one thing or another, but after going back to reread they can see the buried clues that point toward what happened (yes, it’s really difficult to talk about the book without giving anything away). That’s gratifying for a suspense writer, especially for someone like me. I say that because when I was younger I’d get so caught up in a book, I’d forget that I was supposed to suspicious and looking for evidence and tells. So mystery novels, detective fiction, thrillers . . . yeah, I was hopeless. Training myself to pay more attention is ultimately what draws me to writing suspense now. I like planting red herrings or subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) embedding signs in my writing that lead to a twist. Like Hitchcock, I believe suspense is critical, but I also believe the inclusion of a well-planned surprise or two is important, too.
Of course, there are two kinds of surprises—the kind that come out of nowhere and the kind that are the result of quiet clues. I’m not a fan of random surprises that have no real lead-in. It seems vaguely deus ex machine-esque, you know? But what about you? You can win a signed copy of THE TRAJECTORY OF DREAMS and a beaded bookmark just leaving a comment below. Tell me of surprise, suspense, and mystery: what’s the most important component of thrillers for you? The winner will be chosen on March 23!
Publishers Weekly calls THE TRAJECTORY OF DREAMS (Bitingduck Press, ISBN 9781938463440) a “skillful mainstream examination of a psychotic woman’s final descent into insanity.” The novel exposes the chaotic inner life of Lela White, a sleep lab technician and mentally ill insomniac who believes she has been tasked with protecting the safety of the revitalized U.S. space shuttle program. She breaks into the homes of astronauts to watch them sleep, and she is prepared to kill to keep those with sleep problems from the shuttle launch. Her delicate grasp on reality becomes more tenuous when annoying co-worker Trina Shook insists on moving into her house and visiting Russian cosmonaut Zory Korchagin inserts himself into Lela’s life. Korchagin’s increasing interest puts her carefully-constructed world at risk of an explosion as surely as he does his own upcoming launch. Lela’s tragic childhood unfolds throughout the novel, revealing the beginnings of her illness and long-buried secrets, and as Lela’s universe unravels, no one is safe. Buy a copy of THE TRAJECTORY OF DREAMS at your local independent bookshop, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or anywhere books are sold.
THE AUTHOR: Nicole Wolverton fears many things, chief amongst them that something lurks in the dark. From ghosts to stalkers, her adult and young adult fiction plays on the mundane and not-so-mundane things that frighten us all. THE TRAJECTORY OF DREAMS is her debut novel. She is a freelance writer and editor and lives in the Philadelphia area with her husband, dog, and two cats.
MORE STOPS ON THE BOOK TOUR FOR THE TRAJECTORY OF DREAMS = MORE CHANCES TO WIN!
Thank you Nicole Wolverton!!!!
Thanks for reading,