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Paulsen uses a variety of devices to build suspense in Brian Robeson’s tale of survival. The use of flashback is particularly effective in this regard. Paulsen uses Brian’s flashback to help set up moments where something powerful in the narrative happens. For example, the development of Mr. Perpich’s advice to Brian as helping to foster his own sense of mental attitude and toughness is revealed through flashback. “Taking things one step at a time” and focusing on detail is one memory that helps to influence the present. The use of internal dialogue is also particularly effective in creating a mood of suspense. Paulsen understands that there is no one else with whom Brian can reveal his thoughts. With this in mind, Paulsen uses the third person omniscient voice to display to the reader what is happening in Brian’s mind. In the process, this brings out suspense because the reader is made to feel as if they are experiencing the harrowing process of survival within Brian’s mind as well as their own. This is particularly effective. Finally, the description of key moments helps to build the nature of Brian’s ordeal. There are moments, such as when describing Brian’s resolve of “tough hope” that bring out to the reader the grave implications of what Brian is enduring. Through this, the reader has a better understanding of what is at stake and how intense the situation actually is.
The first element used in Hatchet to create suspense is foreshadowing. Paulsen consistently gives clues of upcoming events. One of the first (and most obvious) examples is in the first couple of chapters - the description of the pilot's pains in stomach, arm and shoulder seem innocent at first but quickly become obvious signs of an impending heart attack.
Another element used frequently is more on a syntax level. (Use this word in middle school and your teacher will be highly impressed. "Syntax" basically refers to sentence structure.) Did you notice the frequent use of one word sentences? One line paragraphs? Repetition of certain words? Paulsen does this to almost pulsate Brian's thoughts to us readers like a heartbeat - he is using language to create a feeling in us that might mimick the feelings Brian goes through during times of building fear. It puts the reader and Brian in the same place at the same time - and helps the reader to share Brian's nerves and fear.
Finally (if I remember right), doesn't the book switch back and forth between present tense verbs and past tense verbs? The times when the writing is in past tense are memories or flashbacks, used to build understanding of Brian's character. Anytime a story is written in present tense however, it is almost automatically for the purpose of creating suspense. If we're hearing the story as it is happening, there is no sense that it all works out in the end. When a story is told in past tense, we know the story teller knows the ending (and we trust that it is a good one, why else would we listen to the story?). Present tense however, keeps everyone in the dark as to what the outcome may be. It is a difficult technique to do well. Paulsen obviously got it right. You know you were hooked from the first chapter. We all were.
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