Costa Rica: Predators, a Treehouse, and Creating Suspense
It is a well known fact that women who travel alone to remote areas of the world are more likely to put themselves at risk than men.
The predators that concerned me most while staying in the heart of the Costa Rican jungle slithered on their bellies and walked on four legs. Venomous snakes, bullet ants, the Brazilian Wandering Spider, and even the American Crocodile make this part of the world their home. And one can't forget the cats. BIG CATS of many varieties--the scariest being the jaguar. It's the third largest of all the big cats in the world and can grow up to two meters long (that's about 6'7" for us Yanks). They're skilled hunters capable of climbing trees and swimming long distances. These were the delightful facts our AirBnB host spouted off to us as we walked deeper and deeper into the jungle to meet our home away from home in a remote treehouse near Upala, Costa Rica.
We arrived to find a two-story treehouse with netted windows, a balcony for watching monkeys that came around every evening, and semi-comfortable beds with suspect bedding equipped with nets to keep the creepy-crawlers away.
Here's a bathroom tour to help you get a feel for the facilities.
In all, it was magical, but from that first loud bump on the roof of the bathroom and the progressive tallying of all of the things in the jungle that could easily kill us, that magic dampened when the sun went down. That's when the jungle came alive and we were left to sleep in our beds under a thin net with the open air around us and the very real possibility that, if properly motivated, something could find its way into our rooms.
The night started like this!
And when the sun went down, it turned pure Blair Witch Project!
I spent the entire night clutching my phone and examining my life choices. Why did I always need to find a new adrenaline rush? Why couldn't I just stay home and read books about the jungle? I have KIDS, for heaven's sake! They need their mother!
(Come to find out, that monster keeping my adrenaline levels spiked all night was not a jaguar. It was a howler monkey. )
While slightly terrifying, I learned a lot about suspense from this experience.
No matter the genre, good writers understand the importance of creating suspense in their storytelling. Suspense is less about action and more about anticipation. It is about worry and foreshadowing, unpredictability and the promise of something going wrong.
Suspense lives in the delayed moments before action. And when we write those moments leading up to a scene your reader has been anticipating throughout the book, the writer's job is to take a breath and draw the scene out to really make our readers squirm with anticipation. This applies in the moment before the kiss, the seconds before the character jumps off that cliff, and the heartbeats before the attack.
If you can master this skill, your readers will learn to chase resolution and the pacing of your story will be world-record worthy.
I'm so grateful I survived my jungle treehouse and got to experience this incredible country. The truth: I would do it again in a heartbeat.