Suspense makes your reader’s heart pound uncontrollably, their hands sweat around your book, and drives them to read faster so they can turn the page to find out what is going to happen next.
Not every genre calls for suspense, but if your story is driven by it then here are ten tips to help you build suspense.
1. Plot is the biggest key to suspense. To being with, you have to create events in your story that can be suspenseful like a fight, a kidnapping, a car accident, etc.
2. Setting and tone. A place can be very suspenseful –especially if it’s a dangerous place such as an alley, an abandoned building, or a drug dealer's home. Lighting is also a factor in suspense. If your protagonist is in pitch darkness and can’t see two inches in front of their face the suspense is much higher.
Tone is equally important. Actually, aside from plot, tone is more important than anything else is. If you use a dark suspenseful tone then you heighten the suspense just with your voice. Imagine you are telling a scary story, how would you talk to your audience to create suspense and fear?
3. A good protagonist and a good antagonist can make all the difference. See Blog #33 Protagonist VS. Antagonist to help you create characters that can drive your story and cause suspense.
4. Show your character’s point-of-view. Whatever sort of suspense you are creating, it should always be your top priority to reveal what your protagonist is thinking and feeling. When you show their fear to the reader, then your reader will fear too.
Don’t just focus on the protagonist though. Take the opportunity to get into your antagonist’s mind. Just by revealing their twisted thoughts and motives, you are building the suspense.
5. Use short sentences and fast pace. Just like when you’re writing action, a fast pace means there’s more action and more suspense.
6. Set a time limit. Nothing creates more suspense than a ticking clock, like a bomb that is counting down its last seconds. Perhaps your character is a detective investigating a series of crimes and they have to catch the suspect before they kill again. Have the antagonist reveal that he/she is going to kill again in a certain amount of time then make your protagonist scramble to try to stop him/her.
7. Create high stakes. Your character’s life (or the life of someone they know), their sanity, or the fate of the whole world could be on the line. It’s up to you! Whatever the stakes are, make the threat and the danger real. If there is a bomb, make it come within seconds from going off. Heck, make it go off just as your character is escaping. Now that is suspenseful!
8. Set the odds against the protagonist. If there is no struggle, there is no suspense! It has to seem almost impossible, or that the protagonist may not win after all. Throw complications and dilemmas at your protagonist left and right, something that will make them stumble in their investigation or cause a problem.
9. Fear! Using the protagonist’s fears against them is a sure way to build suspense because when you use fear, suspense is right around the corner. You can even play into your reader’s phobias by writing about fears many people share, like the fear of spiders, drowning, heights, etc.
10. And my favorite weapon to use to build suspense is… SURPRISING THE HECK OUT OF YOUR READER! This is the best way to build suspense and is quite fun to do when you know that your reader won’t ever suspect what you just wrote. A twist in the plot will make their jaws drop and their minds race. After all, when your story is unpredictable it has suspense written all over it.
SHARE: Your tips to building suspense.
Get Ready, Set, Tone!
Get Ready, Set, Tone!