There is one type of suspense, however, so mechanical that it clanks. I mean foreshadowing.
To foreshadow anything is weak. It is like a boxer stalling for the bell. You have to be mighty sure that youve got something outstanding to foreshadow, or the reader will nail up your scalp.
It is nice to start ominously like this:
I knew that night as I sloshed through the driving rain that all was not well. I had a chilly sense of foreboding as though a monster dogged my steps....
If I only had known then what awaited me when the big chimes in the tower should strike midnight, I would have collapsed with terror . . .Very good openings. Very, very good. Proven goods, even though the nap is a bit worn. But how many times have writers lived up to those openings? Not very many.
You get off in high, but after you finish you will probably tear out these opening paragraphs even though Poe was able to get away with this device. Remember the opening of The Fall of the House of Usher"? You know, the one that goes something like this: Through the whole of a dark and dismal afternoon.
That is foreshadowing. However, few besides Poe have been able to get away with suspense created by atmosphere alone.
One particular magazine makes a practice of inserting a foreshadow as a first paragraph in every story. I have come to suspect that this is done editorially because the foreshadow is always worse than the story gives you.
Its a far cry from the jungles of Malaysia to New York, and theres a great difference between the yowl of the tiger and the rattle of the L, but in the city that night there stalked the lust of the jungle killers and a man who had one eye. . . .
I have been guilty of using such a mechanism to shoot out in high, but I dont let the paragraph stand until I am pretty doggone sure that Ive got everything it takes in the way of plot and menace to back it up.
If you were to take all the suspense out of a story, no matter how many unusual facts and characters you had in it, I dont think it would be read very far.
If you were to take every blow of action out of a story and still leave its suspense (this is possible, because Ive done it) you might still have a fine story, probably a better story than before.
There is not, unhappily, any firm from which you can take out a suspense insurance policy. The only way you can do it is to make sure that the reader is sitting there tensely wondering which of two or three momentous things is going to happen first. If you can do that, adroitly to some of those manuscripts which have come bouncing back, they may be made to stay put.