Blog 14: Suspense and Plot Twists (Dead Days by Ryan Casey).

May 3, 2016

Dead days 1 and 2

Writing is hard. Writing a story with nail-biting suspense and epic plot twists is even harder. How can you give your reader the unexpected, make it believable, and keep them hanging onto every word? I have to talk about a particular author here, one who until recently, I knew nothing about.

Let me introduce you to Ryan Casey, author of Dead Days. He writes magnificent, post-apocalyptic horrors and thrillers. Now I know this isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but from a literary viewpoint, Ryan Casey’s books are gold. I rarely come across books that make me feel so uncomfortable, cringe, gobsmacked, heartbroken and keep me rooted to the spot. I read both Season One and Two within a couple of days, the latter within four hours.

How did he keep me hooked? Well firstly he killed-off characters who I believed were completely safe, secondly he kept his main character’s in the dark when terrible things were happening around them or about to happen to them, and thirdly he turned a certain character profile completely on its head. Ryan Casey gave me the unexpected and even though I was horrified at times, he made it believable.

Ryan Casey’s writing style certainly pulled me in and from the many reviews he has received, others too. This is fantastic for an author and even though you can’t please everyone, you want the majority of your readers to be pulled into your story and you want them to want more. That is how you sell books and that is how you fund your writing career.

So how do you write good suspense and epic plot twists? Well, apart from reading a lot of books like Ryan Casey’s series to see how other author’s pull it off, there are a couple of tips to keep in mind.

  1. Make your readers care about your characters – if your readers care and feel connected to your characters then they are likely to keep reading, just to find out what happens to them. Now this isn’t the easiest thing to do, so I suggest that you study your own relationships here. Who do you care about and why? Write everything down that comes to mind.
  2. Avoid the obvious conclusions, but keep it believable – try to find the remotest solution to a problem, one that your readers would have a hard time guessing, it will surprise your readers. However, you must keep your conclusions believable otherwise you risk upsetting your readers. The trick here is to think and write down all of the immediately obvious conclusions and send them to the ‘No’ list. Once you’ve done this several times you will be racking your brain for the less obvious conclusions, the ones you want.
  3. Keep your reader guessing – if your reader can’t guess what is about to happen then they will probably keep reading in order to find out. Try and write your story with the barest minimum of details possible, that way your reader will find it more difficult to guess the direction of your story.
  4. Tell the story from both the protagonist’s viewpoint and the antagonist’s viewpoint – this will give your reader both viewpoints and allows the reader to see potential trouble before it hits the protagonists. Your antagonists don’t necessarily have to be evil villains, but their ideas and morals should conflict with your protagonists.
  5. Let your favourite characters have a few close shaves – no one hates it more when they think their favourite character is in trouble, it can keep a reader hooked until they know that their favourite character is going to be ok. This is exactly what you need to keep the pages turning.
  6. Write the unexpected – whether that is killing off a character, or flipping a character profile, or adding a new element to the story, write something unexpected. You will need to be careful here, the unexpected still needs to be somewhat believable and you may want to ask a friend or family member for their thoughts.

I hope this helps you with your writing and thank you for reading this blog. Do you have any useful tips for writing suspense or plot twists? Do you know of any author who does either of these well? Let me know by leaving a comment below!

‘The suspense is terrible. I hope it will last.’ – Oscar Wilde

The first season for Ryan Casey’s Dead Days is available for free, click here.