Categories of Suspense: Psychological Suspense

I’m looking at T. Macdonald Skillman’s categories of suspense, as listed in her book WRITING THE THRILLER. Today’s category is brought to you by the letter “aaaarrrrrrgggggghhhh!”

The psychological suspense is a broad category that spans basically anything that doesn’t fit in the other categories and always packs a wallop. These babies go over the top with psychological angst for both the reader and the characters. “Not only do they keep you on the edge of your seat,” Skillman says, “they make you stop breathing for a moment.”

The success lies in in the characters. The protagonist and the antagonist have bared their mental states and motivations before the reader. Their pasts, strengths and weaknesses, their darkest secrets are filleted for the reader’s enjoyment all for the lofty goal of sending the reader on a roller coaster ride through Hell. We’re talking SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. Other titles include THE POET by Michael Connelly, A MAIDEN’S GRAVE by Jeff Dever, SWF SEEKS SAME by John Lutz, and UNDER THE BEETLE’S CELLAR by Mary Willis Walker.

Emotional emphasis is the defining element that separates this category from the others. For what it’s worth, I can’t read these things without having nightmares for weeks. My husband conned me into seeing the movie SILENCE OF THE LAMBS year ago (“it won’t be that scary”), and I still can’t think about it without shuddering.


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