For many writers and readers, the suspense is a genre. However, it is also a key element in all stories—if you want your readers to keep reading, that is.
Tools for creating suspense belong in every writer’s toolkit because they help arouse expectation or uncertainty about what’s going to happen.
And that worry pulls readers deeper into your story, whether it’s fantasy, thriller, science-fiction, literary fiction or any other genre.
Below are four ways to help add suspense to your novel, no matter where you’re at in the writing process, from drafting to the fourth round of editing (like me).
In my last post, Four Ways to Foreshadow in Your Story I discuss how foreshadowing can help create suspense but draw your reader in for the ultimate conclusion to your novel.
If you carefully place clues early and often that something bad is going to happen, readers will pick up on them and worry on the protagonist’s behalf.
You can do this for minor happenings and all the way to catastrophic ones. You can use foreshadowing many times in your novel just be careful not to make it too obvious. Readers will know.
Increase The Stakes
In the miss-the-plane example, readers will feel concern only if the consequences of missing the plane are significant. Why was the protagonist boarding the plane? If it was for a holiday, readers won’t be too concerned about her/him missing the plane. However, if they miss the best friend’s wedding, or not reach her father’s deathbed before he dies? The stakes are higher to journey to the destination, no matter what obstacle is in the protagonist’s way.
Make the character’s goals clear from the beginning and their reasons for wanting and needing to achieve them, and the stakes will come into focus. As your book progresses, the stakes should get higher.
The Element of Surprise
If suspense is based on uncertainty, then predictability is the grim reapers hook.
On occasion, when you foreshadow something negative, flip it around. Maybe the plane the character missed ends up crashing into the Pacific Ocean. Or add on another element to something that was expected, like the army of goblins appearing at the Lonely Mountain in The Hobbit – when the battle was between the dwarves and elves.
If you do something like this early on, the next time readers pick up on your foreshadowing, they won’t know what to expect and that will build suspense.
Remove Your Protagonist’s Weapons, Team, and Defenses
Toward the end of many books, there is a climactic meeting between the protagonist and the main antagonist. For maximum suspense, the protagonist must meet his antagonist alone. This is why Dumbledore (and many other mentors in literature) had to die.
When you strip the protagonist of her gun, her allies, and possibly her sanity (temporarily), you throw the outcome into doubt and that creates suspense.
Be creative when thinking about your character’s “weapons.” Yes, it could be an AR-15, a death ray, or a dragon, but it could also be professional respect, self-confidence born of a solid relationship, a logical mind, or another psychological element.
Use these techniques, and don’t feel bad that you’re keeping your readers up late at night, turning the pages to find out what happens in your books.
What authors do you think are good at building suspense? Do you use your own techniques for suspense?
I hope this helps and if you have any concerns and more questions, ask me below. If you think someone has an interesting point of view and answer, please invite them or share this post with them.