Readers Want to Worry: The Use of Suspense in CHASING THE SUN

Tomorrow we celebrate the release of Natalia Sylvester’s CHASING THE SUN.

Her publisher couldn’t have planned this better.

I read Natalia’s book in the first sticky heat of the season. Things were hot and uncomfortable in Chicago as well as inside the story of Andres and Marabela.

Let me put this right here: It’s not a spoiler alert to tell you that Chasing the Sun is the story of a man trying to get his wife back after she is kidnapped and held for ransom during a lawless, unstable time in Lima, Peru.

What was interesting to me as I read this book was the anxiety I felt. I hope you will understand what I mean—that nervy, edgy feeling you get when you’re reading a story where the protagonist is making huge mistakes. It’s so satisfying—in a book. You wouldn’t want to live that way. But in a novel, you want things to get a little uncomfortable, or there’s no reason to stay with the story.

My novel, The Black Hour, has been compared to Gillian Flynn’s breakout novel, Gone Girl. (Uh, yeah, flattering.) It’s because they both have two protagonists, one male and one female, and the things we find out through each of them do not match up. The reader’s unease comes from knowing something just isn’t quite right.

I got that same Gone Girl unease from reading Chasing the Sun. There’s only one protagonist—Andres—but in some ways the things he tells us and the things we see him do don’t match. He isn’t duplicitous or anything. (If you’ve read Gone Girl, you understand precisely what I mean.) But in his desperation to do everything right in the impossible situation he’s in, he messes up.

Which I love. You know how some people love horror movies and then watch them through their fingers, yelling Don’t go into the basement, you idiot? That’s how I read books with suspense in them. And just like the people who keep the horror film industry running, I love to be horrified by a character’s actions, even to watch something terrible unfold that was telegraphed early on.

That’s suspense, in a nutshell. To create suspense in your reader, the reader has to know what could happen. They need to know what they should be worried about. Natalia planted the news of the kidnapping early in the first pages of her novel so that we could all get good and amped up for everything to follow. We may not know Lima or Peru very well, but we understanding the precariousness of kidnapping. We know the terrible things Andres is worried about. Because of Natalia’s skill as a writer, we worry with him as well as about him—will he get it wrong? Will he cost his wife her life and his children their mother?

Peek out from behind your fingers to read this one. You know you want to see what happens next.

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Lori Rader-Day is the author of the mystery THE BLACK HOUR (Seventh Street Books, July 2014). She grew up in central Indiana, but now lives in Chicago with her husband and very spoiled dog.

9 thoughts on “Readers Want to Worry: The Use of Suspense in CHASING THE SUN

  1. I so admire the ability of other authors to create–and sustain–suspense. I think Natalia did a great job of keeping the characters, and the reader along with them, on edge.

  2. Thanks so much, Lori! My cousin, who read an early draft of the book, said a similar thing about feeling uneasy. Sorry to make you so uncomfortable! (ok, not really 😉 Funny how we writers are usually nice people but we like making people a) cry or b) feel uneasy.

  3. This post gets me thinking about how literary novels aren’t often associated with suspense. But suspense doesn’t have to play out like it would in a typical thriller. It can be just the way Lori describes it here for CHASING THE SUN. Brava, Natalia!

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