Don’t break circuit of suspense when it’s hot

The clock says you’re an hour past your bedtime, but you don’t care. The book’s action, tension and suspense controls you. Two old friends, one now in the Gestapo, another a Luftwaffe officer, dine in a French inn. The Gestapo agent shows his old friend his prisoner being kept in the inn’s cellar. One of the naked prisoner’s eyes is swollen shut and the face heavily bruised…and she is the Luftwaffe officers’ cousin! The chapter ends.

You turn the page. Nothing a shot of espresso in the coffee won’t solve tomorrow morning. You just have to find out what happens next!

To do that, though, you first must wade through a page-and-a-half retelling of what occurred in the previous chapter. You find your interest sagging.

You’ve been the victim of an emotional circuit breaker. This craftsmanship error occurs when the writer cuts away from a scene once the stakes get high…and often follows it with a lower-stakes retelling of the events. The term was coined by Cambridge Science Fiction Workshop member David Alexander Smith.

Generally, an emotional circuit breaker is a bad ploy as it breaks the natural rise and fall of dramatic action. With the loss of immediacy comes the loss of tension.

Don’t mix up the emotional circuit breaker with a cliffhanger. Ending the chapter on the suspenseful high certainly was a good move. The problem came with the slowing of the story and the narration at the beginning of the next chapter. Instead, the story should have continued at the exact point where it left off.


My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.