I have the pleasure of presenting new author Stephanie Carroll and her debut novel A White Room on her book blog tour. Feel free to comment. The author will also be around to answer any questions you may have.
The Following Excerpt is from A White Room by Stephanie Carroll
I sighed in anticipation of the next room, my greatest horror. The door to this room was
positioned too close to the perpendicular wall, so I’d initially assumed it was a linen closet. It wasn’t until I’d opened it for the first time with the intention of storing some sheets and towels that I found a large room extending narrowly to the right, along the left wall of my room. It almost seemed disguised, hidden.
I stepped forward and clutched the doorknob. I shivered at the thought of what squatted behind that thin wood. I always felt this presence lurking. I knew the room was filled with sunlight, but in my head I saw only darkness. I saw a gangly inhuman creature enveloped in black. Its long limbs formed angles as it scuttled across the bare floor, knowing I was about to enter. It was sin. I wanted to cry, the fear was so immense. I couldn’t banish the thought that it was really there, the thought that it would actually attack me, that it was my fault, that it had come from me—it existed only because of me. I felt the way I had when I’d created the wolf—when my father closed his eyes. I wanted to leave the door closed and ignore it, but I couldn’t let my silly fears influence me so. I prepared myself for the light. I didn’t know how to prevent the sting other than to close my eyes and open the door quickly. I twisted the doorknob and extended my arms as the door moved inward. I flinched. The light should have been released, but I didn’t see the red glow from behind my shut eyes. I slowly opened them, just a little at first, but saw nothing, absolutely nothing. I opened them completely and saw darkness. I squealed and fell backward. My back and head slammed against the wall across from the dark room. Shirts and pants flopped out of the basket. How could it be dark? “Mrs. Dorr? Are you all right?” I heard Mrs. Schwab pound up the basement stairs. I sat up against the wall with clothing scattered around me. I stared into the dark hole feeling the presence creep out and hover over me, its gangly limbs stretching across my body. If it took me, what would I become?
“Miss?” She was at the bottom of the stairwell. I had to force my words, and my voice cracked. “I—I’m fine.”
“Do you need me?”
I tried to stand, but my corset straightened me like a board, and I couldn’t wrench myself into a standing position. I reached for my chamber doorknob and pulled myself up. I bent one leg and then the other, my gaze fixed on the dark room, rapidly scanning for a glimmer of the beast. How could it be dark?
“I…” I paused to gather my voice. “I’m fine!”
Her heavy steps drifted away. I stood up and looked into the darkness. I had to face this. I hesitated and then slowly inched into the room. I could feel it watching me. I raised my hands in front of me, wondering if I might suddenly feel its ragged flesh. I squeezed my eyes shut and told myself it wasn’t real. My steps were heavy. Darkness pounded in my ears. It felt as if the door had shut behind me. I staggered in an endless darkness that belonged to no place. I took another step and another until, with the tip of my left middle finger, I felt it. It was standing in front of the window. It was standing right in front of me. I stopped. Oh, Lord. Oh, God. I was touching it. This was it. Now it had me. It had me. My heart pounded. I cringed and I waited. I waited for something, for pain, for an end. Had it happened? Nothing happened. It didn’t move. I eased my left hand slightly forward and felt the strange texture envelop it, soft—like velvet? I opened my eyes, grabbed it, and yanked. A sliver of light appeared. It took me a moment. Curtains.
—Quoted with permission of the author.
How to Write Suspenseful Fiction
By Stephanie Carroll
Some people have said that A White Room is a novel of suspense, but it’s not a thriller or suspense novel. It’s not a horror or gory novel. Even though the above scene could probably fit quite nicely in a gothic paranormal novel, that’s not what this is. It’s historical women’s fiction. A White Room is a turn of the century story of a young woman who becomes an underground nurse after her unwanted marriage and domestic life drives her to near-insanity.
Suspense is a tension technique that can be used in any genre of fiction and does not always require the qualities expected from horror or thriller novels. Even though the above section involves a monster, the monster isn’t real and no one is torn to shreds by it. I use suspense techniques throughout A White Room, and plenty of scenes do not have a monster involved. They do have something in common though.
Information withholding. That is the key, I believe, to writing suspense or tension into any genre. Not letting the reader know what is going to happen but suggesting that whatever will happen isn’t good.
Here’s how it works. The writer suggests something bad is going to happen but does not tell the reader outright what or why that is and instead allows the scene to unfold moment by moment, slowly suggesting worse and worse possibilities, increasing the danger of what might happen, while simultaneously drawing out every haggard breath until something finally does happen. Long sentences help too. Digital winky face. ; )
Let’s break down the excerpt above, and keep in mind that this is a portion of a much longer chapter that has been building to this moment. Still, even without that building, the tension is detectable. It starts with the suggestion of danger or fear when my main character, Emeline, approaches the room. Immediately, the tension begins with the unknown information – why is she afraid of this room?
This question isn’t answered right away. Instead, Emeline explains the strange qualities of the room. Then she begins to answer the question – she is afraid of some creature in the room, but this answer introduces another question. What is the thing lurking in the room and why does it pose her danger?
As Emeline goes on describing this creature, there are more and more unanswered questions. Is it real? How did she create it, and did she create it in her head or for real? Does she even know? Is it really going to be there when she opens the door, and if it is, will it really be there or just be in her mind?
Now, with all these questions put in front of us, we are ready. Open the door. But alas, Emeline does not open the door just yet. She first prepares herself, feels fear again, decides to close her eyes, turns the knob, extends her arm – each of these small actions further delaying the reader getting the answer. Then when the door is finally open and we expect our answer – Emeline presents a multitude of new questions. Where is the light? Why does she scream and fall back? What does she see in the room? Is the creature there? She describes this feeling she has that is there, but it’s not really there – or is it?
Again, we are not given the answers right away and more questions arise. Now her maid is calling after her, but she isn’t pleading for help. Why not? If she is so frightened, why isn’t she calling for help? Why is she so frightened? Again we are taken through each moment of Emeline staring into the room, answering her maid, trying to get up in spite of her corseting, each movement delaying so many answers.
It’s important to create a good balance with tension techniques because the reader can get tired of it. Nothing should be drug out too long to the point where the reader no longer feels like sticking around to learn the answer. This is what the smaller questions being brought up along the way help with. They give the reader another reason to stick around.
As Emeline finally enters the room, we are still not given answers but presented again with the questions – what is going to happen? Is the creature in there? Why is it dark? Then when she feels something on her fingertips, we are riddled with all the questions in that final moment when we know we are about to have all the answers.
The final answer is far less frightening than what it seemed all of this was leading too, and some might think a reader would be disappointed with that, but the answer is so unexpected that it serves as an enjoyable relief and release of the tension. Now in a horror novel, that release of tension might happen in a different fashion. Creepy digital smile. =)
One thing is for certain. Emeline could have felt frightened, opened the door, been confused by the darkness, and walked in to realize it was curtains all in the matter of a paragraph, or even a sentence, but by dragging it out and withholding information, tension and suspense ensued.
About the author: As a reporter and community editor, Stephanie Carroll earned first place awards from the National Newspaper Association and from the Nevada Press Association. Stephanie holds degrees in history and social science. She graduated summa cum laude from California State University, Fresno.
Her dark and magical writing is inspired by the classic authors Charlotte Perkins Gilman (The Yellow Wallpaper), Frances Hodgson Burnett (The Secret Garden), and Emily Bronte (Wuthering Heights).
Stephanie blogs and writes fiction in California, where her husband is stationed with the U.S. Navy. Her website is www.stephaniecarroll.net. A White Room is her debut novel.