Friday, January 7, 2011

The Boo Radley Factor

Boo Radley.

Boo is the mysterious and unforgettable character lurking in the background of the perpetual classic novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. As a highschooler, I fondly remember this book as one of the first that ignited my passion for reading. The story is fast-paced, funny and utterly suspenseful. It's so good that I still can't believe they call it homework.

Many of the best stories I've read, or seen played out on the silver screen, include what I call the "Boo Radley" Factor. There is this element of suspense that hangs over the entire length of the book, mysterious and threatening. Often, we readers don't find out the "truth" about this element until the end (or near the end) of the novel.

In the movie, The Terminal, Tom Hanks carries around a small box for the entire movie, only occasionally referencing it, just a note of added suspense to a good movie. This small extra element increases interest, engagement and adds another layer of suspense to the story.

Note from both of my examples that the element you use for suspense can be a character (a person, animal, the weather, creatures, etc) or a physical object (box, bomb, etc). The possibilities, as they say, are endless.

In what way can you add the "Boo Radley" factor to your current or next story? Is there some small element of suspense you can use to ratchet up the thrills?

To consider this issue deeply, here are some final thoughts and questions to ask yourself:

1. Is there a character in your story that naturally fits the "Boo Radley" mold?
2. If so, how can you maximize the suspense with this character? How long can you hide him or her before you make the big reveal? (hint: the longer, the better)
3. Is there an object in your novel that naturally creates suspense? How can you increase the suspense level? How can you make your readers wait longer to understand what the object is or what it means?
4. How can the character or object reveal new plot information, double as a reversal or reveal a new side of a character? How many ways can you think of to use the character or object? Try to come up with at least two.