Have you ever read a suspense novel with a main character who makes all the wrong choices? Even worse, have you read one with a character TSTL (Too Stupid To Live)? We all have. And if you're like me, you don't finish reading that book. I don't want the suspense novel hero to triumph by accident.  Please, writers, make your characters smart. I've got some tips to help you craft suspense stories with characters we'll love.

Tip #1: Give your heroes and heroines some common sense. Don't let them storm into dark basements for curiosity's sake. It's akin to the sorority girl in the horror movie investigating the weird noise without a weapon, escape route, or clue. A great character can make bad choices, but there should be a good reason for it. We want to empathize with that character and understand his/her reason for storming into the basement armed only with the television remote control in hand.

Tip #2: Allow the main character to sense real danger as well as imagined danger. An author can humanize a character by giving him a phobia. I can't help but think of Indiana Jones and the pit of snakes. If your character has a fear of heights, imagine how suspenseful it could be to incorporate a scene on top of a tall building. The danger is real but exaggerated in the character's mind.

Tip #3: Fear of a past event repeating itself can be a great to ramp up the tension. Maybe the hero/heroine failed at something important and you can use that fear to fuel a future challenge.  

Tip #4: Make your character an expert at something. This doesn't mean the main character must have Einstein's IQ.  Your character can be smart in a specialized area and that knowledge can help to overcome the bad guys. 

Basically, we all want to read about characters we can understand and respect. Characters that we'd like to hang out with on a Saturday night. Maybe even characters who are just a little bit smarter than we are. 






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  1. Lol. TSTL. Yeah, seen that A LOT.

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    1. I'm lucky to have a critique partner who calls me on this one.There's nothing worse than hanging my head in shame over a TSTL comment, so I'm extra careful about it. :)

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  2. I don't read a lot of suspense, but I see the same 'duh' moments in romance. #1 Common Sense-I love this set up: Sure, that one-night stand, unprotected sex, bare your soul to a stranger moment will NEVER end up in a pregnancy or STD. Right. I love characters that take chances, but make them responsible and reasonable chances. #2 Real danger- see above and if someone talks like a jerk and acts like a jerk- they are a jerk! Too many heroines act like they deserve the crap the hero throws at them, and that a writer writes the character so accepting of mistreatment irks me! I #3 Fear of the past- now that is pure genius and I see it work in romance. It's that moment of been burnt before, so I'll avoid the fire, but doesn't being cold and alone get old? I love it when a character's inner most fears hold them at bay but they can work through the anxiety and tension, but slowly-throw a 180 personality turn around in my face and it's a huge eye roll. #4-Yes, every character should have that one thing that makes them special, unique, knowledgable. A talent that might even be extra attractive to the other lead romance character and might just come in handy at an opportune time- like a female with mechanic skills and she saves the day for the guy! Thanks for making me think outside the suspense box, Brinda! Julie.

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    1. Julie- You are so right. These all work in any genre. I love how well you've illustrated the transferability of these characteristics to romance writing. On #2, you bring up a point that really aggravates me in novels. I just have a hard time with a guy who only speaks in jerk lingo. Alpha doesn't equate to total jerk in my mind.

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  3. LOL TSTL - stupid must die.
    I get some authors want to (and should) make complex & flawed characters. The challenge, as you point out, is avoiding going a bit too far with it on the brains aspect, because then it's not believable.
    I say, don't be cute with complexity.
    Great stuff!

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    1. Thanks, DA. You're so right on too brainy pushing the believable envelope. We strive to keep it real!

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  4. Love this. I mean, sure, they can think about doing something stupid, but I like to let them have enough brains to come up with a better plan. I like to write characters who consider the consequences of their decisions, like most real people do. I like to write characters who remember their mistakes.

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    1. Right! We all THINK of doing something stupid and then rethink that plan. Or at least I do... lol.

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  5. Love this. I mean, sure, they can think about doing something stupid, but I like to let them have enough brains to come up with a better plan. I like to write characters who consider the consequences of their decisions, like most real people do. I like to write characters who remember their mistakes.

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  6. Fantastic tips! My basic test is this: Would I do that? Because no one looks out for me like me. LOL If I wouldn't run into an abandoned warehouse to hide from a killer, I don't think my MC would either. Or if they did, I'd need to motivate the heck out of it. :-)

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