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BAIT AND SWITCH TACTICS

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on July 13, 2010

Bait and Switch Tactics are a means to keep your reader on the edge of her seat with gripping fear for your characters’ lives. What you’ll want to do is isolate your characters, then write scenes in each person’s viewpoint with a cliffhanger at the end of each sequence.

Take my main characters in SILVER SERENADE, for example. Silver is an assassin whose assignment is to kill Bluth, the leader of Tyrone’s Marauders. Jace, a hunted criminal, needs the terrorist alive to prove his innocence. Bluth has kidnapped his sister. Jace must learn her location to attempt a rescue, and Silver has promised to help him before she ends Bluth’s tyranny.

In one scene, Silver and Jace confront the terrorist leader in his lair. The purpose of this scene is to deliver important information to propel the action forward. To rachet up the suspense, I’ve isolated these people. Here is how the scene breaks down into several sequences [SPOILER ALERT!]:

1. Jace=s viewpoint. Jace and Silver, in disguise, present themselves as new recruits for Bluth=s terrorist network. They look for their contact, Gruber, at a saloon on the planet Al=ron. While sitting at the bar, Silver shrugs off a roughneck patron who makes a play for her. The fellow insults Jace, who kills him. After this display, their contact approaches and introduces them to the bandit leader. Impressed by Jace’s quick response, Bluth says they passed the first test. He=ll take Silver with him to his headquarters, but Jace must follow them alone in his ship. Jace fears for Silver=s safety. Or worse, will she use this opportunity to assassinate Bluth and leave him behind?

2. Silver=s viewpoint. She is on a firing range at headquarters for Tyrone=s Marauders, being tested for her skills as a sharpshooter. She passes the test. Her supervisor marches her to the detention center where the evil Bluth snatches a captive child from his mother=s arms and demands Silver shoot him. Tempted to aim her laser rifle at Bluth instead, Silver manages to demonstrate her skill in a less lethal manner. During their dialogue, she learns a piece of important information. Bluth leads her away, while she wonders what=s happened to Jace who has failed to show up. Has he been caught?

3. Jace’s viewpoint. Jace’s cover has been blown, and Bluth arrives to torture him in his prison cell. Bluth questions him about his contact, Gruber. Was Gruber duped by Jace, or is he a willing accomplice? Jace turns the interrogation around when he learns where his sister is being held and also gains news on urgent political issues. What chills him more is Bluth’s boast that Silver waits for him in his chamber, unaware the pirate knows her true identity.

4. Silver’s viewpoint: Silver seeks to rescue Jace. In the hallway, she hears approaching footsteps. She opens the nearest unlocked door and slips inside a stranger=s quarters. He turns out to be a financial officer for Bluth. After rendering him unconscious, Silver copies data from his computer. This information may help prove Jace=s innocence and may also help them cut off Bluth’s funding at its source. But this data will only be useful if she can escape the complex. How can she reach the detention center and free Jace?

5. Jace’s viewpoint: Guards arrive to march him from his cell, and he figures he’s marked for execution.

And so on. You get the idea? When I began this scene, I had no idea how it would play out. The sequences developed as I wrote, but each time I was in one character’s head, I left them at a critical juncture. Hopefully this will induce you, the reader, to keep turning pages to see what happens to them next.

In summary, to increase suspense, isolate your main characters and leave each one in jeopardy or fearing for the other’s safety at the end of each sequence. Switch back and forth, until they meet again. This technique has been used successfully in many thrillers, and you can deploy it for your story as well. Hook the reader and reel them in!

ORDER YOUR COPY OF SILVER SERENADE NOW at The Wild Rose Press  Silver Serenade

* Prize drawing from all blog commenters in July!         

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10 Responses to “BAIT AND SWITCH TACTICS”

  1. Of course when I saw “bait & switch” I immediately thought of retailers and how they tease you to get you into the store. I guess what you’re doing is “teasing” the reader to keep them turning the pages. Great post!

  2. That’s right, Maeve, the idea is to “tease” the reader into reading more!

  3. I absolutely love when an author leaves me at a crucial point with a tease.
    It’s a real talent Nancy! Good luck with sales!!

  4. Kristin W. said

    Great tips, Nancy. You always leave me with something new to think about.

  5. Thanks, Mary! It’s a great technique.

  6. You should consider doing a workshop on this technique. It seems like it would be effective in upping the pacing in all kinds of stories, not just thrillers.

  7. Nancy, I actually had a reviewer pan me for leaving her hanging while I shifted to another character’s POV. However, I haven’t changed my writing style, and still prefer to use the changes. It’s virtually a necessity if you’ve got characters who aren’t even in the same scene, and you can’t abandon one’s story for too long or you get into those chronology issues.

  8. Hi Nancy,
    Yor blog is very interesting, and for plotters, would be a simple next step to deciding each chapter’s hook ending. For pantzers like me…love that word – sounds sorta kinky…I guess we could write the scene and try breaking in the middle to lead the reader on to the next chapter.
    Great blog…

  9. Terry, I can’t imagine a reviewer complaining that you left her hanging! That’s the whole idea, to get her to keep turning the pages. As for being a plotter versus a pantser, I didn’t plan these scenes out like this ahead of time. One of my upcoming guest blogs is on Scene Structure. That’s where I explained how I approached this scene going in. I didn’t know at the outset exactly how it would play out or where I’d break these sequences. That happened naturally in the story telling but you have to be aware of the technique.

  10. I like how the ‘bait & switch’ naturally emerges in writing, but I don’t like it when authors (or myself) intentionally write to “cliffhang” the reader. I think it’s deceptive and it seems forced. However, when the writer (or imaginer) authors it in such a way that it naturally emerges as a cliffhanging scene, then it’s wonderful.

    With Love and Gratitude,

    The Intentional Sage

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