…A man approached—wearing gray baggy pants and a tight, sweaty shirt that had once been white—and asked to take our order. I found an item on the menu I recognized, a sandwich, and ordered it in halting Spanish.
The restaurant’s aging double wooden doors stood open, and outside the sky darkened. Motorcycles and four-wheel drives stirred up dust. I watched a man walk by with a semi-automatic rifle. Clinging lovers strolled by in tight, shiny clothes. Brassy music streamed out from another joint. I was disgusted with it all. Those people were so different from my kind of people.
Eventually a waiter brought our food. Still clutching my purse, I gnawed on my sandwich: dry white bread and a piece of meat—no butter, mayo, mustard, or lettuce—but it was food.
We sat silently, eating our meal, when the restaurant went dark—utterly black. Outside beyond the open doors, everything went black, too.
Several long seconds passed. No one in the restaurant—neither customers nor employees—said a word. Outside on the street there was not a noise. The silence continued, and that seemed strange. Why wasn’t anyone saying anything?
Then my heart lurched: This could be a guerrilla plot to kidnap us. Thousands of people were kidnapped every year in _______, and there we sat, three vulnerable gringo women, three small children. What easy targets we were.
Silently I screamed, “Lord, Lord, You wouldn’t let that happen—would You?”
I grabbed little Jenny’s hand on my right and Jon’s on my left. Still no one spoke. I wanted to scream, “What’s going on?” but I followed my traveling companions’ example and kept my mouth shut.
I heard footsteps. Someone faltered across the floor, then feet shuffled toward us. I could barely breathe. The footsteps stopped beside me. I squeezed the children’s hands until I was afraid their little bones would break. No one, I vowed, will snatch a child from my grip. They can have my purse, but not one of the children.
A rustle confirmed that someone stood within inches of me. I jumped when I heard something placed on our table.
I heard a noise. “Fffisht.” I knew that noise. It was the scrape of a match. In an instant I saw a man’s dark face in the flame’s dim glow.
Copyright © 2013 by Linda K. Thomas
This is the end of one chapter in a multi-chapter vignette I’ve written for my grandchildren. (For security reasons I removed the name of the town and country.)
In light of our past blog posts about creating tension and making readers wait for a resolution, does this work? I welcome your feedback. Leave comments below or on the SM 101 Facebook Page.
Look over one of your rough drafts. How can you increase tension and make’em wait?
Remember: An essential element in good stories is tension and suspense.
Hold readers captive.
Unravel the story as you lived it—unable to see into the future—and let readers unravel it with you.
Pull readers in. If you were scared out of your wits, write in such a way that readers experience your fright with you.
Explain what was at stake. What were the possible outcomes? Which did you hope for? Why? Which outcome did you fear most? Why?
Make your readers curious: Leave them wondering about the outcome.
Keep up the suspense.
Readers want to tag along with you to see how, step by step, you dealt with your problem so they can deal with theirs.
Step by step means you let readers experience the suspense you experienced. “Make ‘em wait.”
Readers will read your book because they want to learn from you. They know you weren’t handed an easy fix—that’s not the way life, or God, works—so they don’t want you to offer them a trite, instant, easy fix.
Keep your predicament before your readers. Leave them hanging.
After all, as you lived your story, you endured a time lag—maybe minutes, maybe months, maybe years—before you found resolution for your problem. You didn’t know how the incident would end.
You had to wait. Make your readers wait, too.
When they finish a chapter of your memoir, make ‘em worry for you. Make ‘em wonder what will happen in the next chapter.