By Liese Sherwood-Fabre
In 1974, two psychologists conducted an experiment where after men crossed a bridge, an attractive female approached them to participate in a short study. In half the cases, the men crossed a swinging suspension bridge, which Dalton and Aron hypothesized would increase both the men’s heart rate and breathing. In the other half, they crossed a much more stable bridge.
Both groups were then asked to write a brief story about a picture the female scientist showed them. After completing the assignment, she gave her phone number to each “in case they had further questions.” More of the men who crossed the suspension bridge called the woman afterwards than those on the sturdy bridge. The psychologists concluded the men attributed the crossing’s heightened arousal to the woman rather than the bridge. In other words, the bigger the thrill, the greater the love.
Writers, especially thriller writers, have inherently known this and use it as a common plot element. The perilous situation found in suspense fiction heightens characters’ tension, and they quickly bond with each other. Think of the attraction developed between the hero and heroine in such storylines as Speed, Romancing the Stone, The Bourne Identity, and just about every James Bond film. When the bullets fly, so do characters’ hormones.
But the same can be said about relationship between the reader and the thriller writer. Any writer, regardless of genre, seeks to create an emotional bond with the reader. In turn, the reader desires stories that evoke emotions—be it love, fear, terror, etc. No greater compliment exists for a writer than, “I couldn’t put it down.” In this instance, the reader has become so attracted to the characters, he must finish the book to find out how—or if—the hero and heroine survive. The up-and-down emotional rollercoaster keeps the reader connected to the characters and their plight.
For my debut novel Saving Hope, Alexandra, the main character, must battle Russia’s crumbling healthcare system to save her daughter’s life. Along the way, she encounters a local mafia boss, Iranians seeking bioweapons, and one very annoying FSB (formerly the KGB) officer who’s not convinced she’s not involved in something illegal. In turn, she must decide whether to trust someone from an organization everyone feared during the Soviet era. Making certain readers stay involved in the story means ensuring they care what happens to Alexandra and her daughter as well as that FSB agent.
The word thrill is defined as sudden excitement or pleasure, and for thriller readers, they can expect both in every story.
What about you, has a book recently brought you an exceptional thrill to the point you couldn’t put it down? Is there a particular story you think illustrates the relationship between tension and emotion?
LieseSherwood-Fabre grew up in Dallas, Texas and knew she was destined to write when she got an A+ in the second grade for her story about Dick, Jane, and Sally’s ruined picnic. After obtaining her PhD from Indiana University, she joined the federal government and had the opportunity to work and live internationally for more than fifteen years. After returning to the states, she seriously pursued her writing career, and her debut novel Saving Hope is available through Musa Publishing and wherever eBooks are sold. She is also currently offering two copies of her novel through ITW’s Never-endingBook Giveaway.