How to Find Suspense in the Supernatural

In Clarity and its new sequel, Perceptionprotagonist Clare Fern is an ace detective with a special tool in her arsenal: psychic powers. You’d think being psychic would make the whole finding-clues part of the job pretty easy . . .  and the story pretty boring. But Clare ranks up there with pop culture’s best and brainiest girl detectives, and author Kim Harrington manages to keep readers in a state of crackling suspense throughout her novels. So what’s her secret? Read on.

When crafting Clarity, I worked hard to maintain a balance between a traditional mystery and a paranormal novel. It was important to me that the mystery wasn’t “magically” solved. I wanted the Ferns’ paranormal abilities to be key to the story, but not cheats. Regular sleuthing and old-fashioned brainpower had to be equally important.

The best way to accomplish this is to give powers limitations and conflicts.

My main character, Clare, gets visions when holding objects. But these visions can’t foretell the future. They only show moments from the past and only from the point-of-view of the person who’d held the object.

Clare’s mother, Starla, is a telepath. She can hear the thoughts of a person in close range, if she concentrates. But the limitation is, she can only hear what they’re thinking right now. She can’t rifle through their past thoughts. So she could be standing right next to the killer and he might only be thinking that he’s hungry.

Clare’s brother, Perry, is a medium and can communicate with ghosts. But only if they’re willing to communicate with him. It would be far too easy to have Perry just ask the ghost of a murder victim, “Who killed you?” So I had to insert a conflict. That’s where the twist in Chapter Eleven comes in. 😉

Developing powers with limitations opens up the story. Clare’s psychic gift gives her many tantalizing clues, but she needs to combine those clues with her own thinking and action to solve the mystery. This combination, hopefully, keeps the suspense running high and makes the eventual reveal all the more satisfying.

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