Fair warning: the first half of District 9 stutters along like a broken shopping cart. It's in the much better second half of the movie from which I will pluck a few secret writing tactics (Note: I don't recommend you see the movie, but if you do, this blog may very well ruin it for you).
Once the main character begins his alien-transformation, the story kicks into high gear. Slowly and with delicious pacing through the second half of the movie, the hero becomes one of the aliens. First, an arm. Then he starts losing fingernails and teeth. You get the picture. Each small transformation glues the audience's eyes to the screen. Everyone is thinking: "What will happen next?" The transformation severs as a kind of ticking time bomb, raising the tension-inducing question, "Will the hero stop the transformation before he completely changes?" This, my writer friend, is the first secret.
Is there a slow transformation you can show in your story? Maybe it is a character who slowly turns to the dark side (think, Star Wars). Perhaps a couple who slowly, but surely, fall in love. Then again, you don't have to limit yourself to morphing fictional people. You can show a setting change, perception change, attitude change, or belief change. Be creative. Come up with your own unique way to give your readers the juicy tension of story-long change.
Let's recap. Showing a slow, piece by piece, change can ratchet up the suspense in your story. Bestselling novels show change. Lots of change. Characters change, settings change, perceptions and attitudes change.
Stop for a moment and ask the following questions of your current story.
- How can one of my characters change throughout the story?
- Is there a physical change I can show?
- How is the change connected to the plot?
- How many characters (main and minor) change in my story?
- Do they all change in the same way? If not, how does each one change?
- How are all the changes connected the plot and theme(s) of the story?
- Are there other changes I might create in my story? (Setting, for example)
Change, especially slow change throughout the story, creates suspense-- page-flipping, nail-biting, edge of your seat suspense.