David Westby’s Phoenix statue creates a thrilling atmosphere for the autumn equinox at this year’s Italian retreat

With red suns by day, dark nights looming and a frenzy of fake blood and drunken zombies promised for Halloween, it seems like a good time to go gothic. Ghost stories, horror movies, thrillers and crime fiction need twists, turns and tension. In fact almost any genre, any narrative needs tension so here are a few ways to inject it into our work:
1. Pace – using techniques to control pace will manipulate the reader’s emotional response to events.
 2. Managing expectation – careful organisation of detail to make sure the reader is told exactly what they need to know when they need to know it: e.g. the reader needs to know that there have been mysterious events at 10 Downing Street to be concerned when the main character’s new shoes go missing before a big Brexit meeting.
3. False alarms, twists, anticipation – the stalwarts of the horror movie can be exploited. The terrifying tap at the window pane that turns out to be the neighbour’s cat, the benign stranger mistaken for the peeping tom, the heroic rescuer who hides a garrotte in his back pocket. Dramatic events can be prefigured by less significant yet similar ones earlier in the story, e.g. on page one the heroine knocks a glass off the balcony that shatters on the treacherous rocks below. Later, during a heated exchange, she leans, against the balcony railing …
4. Identifying with character – sharing the character’s viewpoint, expectations, emotional reactions, psychological state. A first-person narrator, for example, will mean that the reader’s and the protagonist’s awareness of events is simultaneous. An ‘on the shoulder’ viewpoint account of an event will heighten its immediacy and impact.
5. Superior knowledge of reader – arming the reader with facts that create apprehension: the floorboard needs fixing; the charming stranger wears the signet ring identified as belonging to the evil wizard; the new pupil has a potentially fatal nut allergy.
6. Surprise – The stranger interruptsthe partywith the news that she is the birthday girl’s real mother; the heroine turns round to find her friend holding a gun on her; the hideous clown’s face appears in the dark window. This “shock” should arrive in the narrative without warning.
7. Sub text – use of word associations and imagery to suggest a tense or sinister undercurrent, which may be at odds with what is presented by the text.
Ardella Jones
Don’t miss novelist Sheena Joughin’s workshop on creating atmosphere 1 – 4pm 4th November at The Trafalgar Arms. Tooting