Suspense: How do you analyse suspense in an extract? (GCSE English)
Here are a few questions that produce stimulating answers to any question about suspense or tension. Remember suspense is created through a combination of elements. Always identify the conflicts you can see in a passage. Sometimes, reading them aloud, may also make the conflicts more apparent.
But if I had one piece of advice above all others, I would say: ALWAYS LOOK FOR THE WAYS IN WHICH POWER IS REPRESENTED IN ANY NARRATIVE. WHO HAS THE POWER AND DOES THIS CHANGE?
Read the extract from Chapter 12 of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.( I have explored this passage in full in a previous blog post)
The din was on the causeway: a horse was coming; the windings of the lane yet hid it, but it approached. I was just leaving the stile; yet, as the path was narrow, I sat still to let it go by. In those days I was young, and all sorts of fancies bright and dark tenanted my mind: the memories of nursery stories were there amongst other rubbish; and when they recurred, maturing youth added to them a vigour and vividness beyond what childhood could give. As this horse approached, and as I watched for it to appear through the dusk, I remembered certain of Bessie’s tales, wherein figured a North-of-England spirit called a “Gytrash,” which, in the form of horse, mule, or large dog, haunted solitary ways, and sometimes came upon belated travellers, as this horse was now coming upon me.
It was very near, but not yet in sight; when, in addition to the tramp, tramp, I heard a rush under the hedge, and close down by the hazel stems glided a great dog, whose black and white colour made him a distinct object against the trees. It was exactly one form of Bessie’s Gytrash — a lion-like creature with long hair and a huge head: it passed me, however, quietly enough; not staying to look up, with strange pretercanine eyes, in my face, as I half expected it would. The horse followed, — a tall steed, and on its back a rider. The man, the human being, broke the spell at once. Nothing ever rode the Gytrash: it was always alone; and goblins, to my notions, though they might tenant the dumb carcasses of beasts, could scarce covet shelter in the commonplace human form. No Gytrash was this, — only a traveller taking the short cut to Millcote. He passed, and I went on; a few steps, and I turned: a sliding sound and an exclamation of “What the deuce is to do now?” and a clattering tumble, arrested my attention. Man and horse were down; they had slipped on the sheet of ice which glazed the causeway. The dog came bounding back, and seeing his master in a predicament, and hearing the horse groan, barked till the evening hills echoed the sound, which was deep in proportion to his magnitude. He snuffed round the prostrate group, and then he ran up to me; it was all he could do, — there was no other help at hand to summon. I obeyed him, and walked down to the traveller, by this time struggling himself free of his steed. His efforts were so vigorous, I thought he could not be much hurt; but I asked him the question —
“Are you injured, sir?”
I think he was swearing, but am not certain; however, he was pronouncing some formula which prevented him from replying to me directly.
“Can I do anything?” I asked again.
The setting. Where are we? What time of day? Why is this effective and important? Does the setting create a sense of threat? If so, to whom and why?
Think about the weather. Does it reinforce the emotions of the protagonist(s)? Pathetic fallacy?
Whose point of view dominates? How does this affect the sensory impressions we receive as readers? Are we relying on the visual or aural? Is the narrator vulnerable in any way and why is this important? Power shifts are very important in the creation of suspense-filled narratives.
Think about the pace of the extract. Does the sense of excitement and suspense escalate during the passage? How is this achieved? Look at the verbs in the narrative. Are they powerful and active? Are there any other interesting or strange uses of language? How do they create suspense?
Is there any sense of relief in the extract? What effect does this have on the suspense?
Are there any conflicts in the passage? Remember they may be psychological, or physical or even social. Are there conflicts around female/male behaviours too? Which characters seem most powerful and does this change?
How is dialogue used to create suspense? Or is it used to relieve suspense?
Do you think there are any other devices or ‘tools’ used to create a feeling of suspense in the passage?
I am a highly approachable Independent Expert Private English/English Literature Tutor located in Greater Manchester with over twenty years teaching and tutoring experience from Secondary to Postgraduate Degree level.
The Woman in Black
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