What is suspense? Suspense is dramatic tension, the anticipation of things to come and questions to be answered. If you do it well, your reader will eagerly stay up well past his bedtime to read one more chapter. If you lose it, the reader will close the book and may never come back.
You don’t need to write thrillers to build suspense. Great romances show you how a couple belongs together – and then keeps them apart for hundreds of pages while you’re on the edge of your seat to see them get together. Great horror shows you enough of the monster to be afraid, and then makes you anticipate the fear more and more as time goes on. And great mysteries make you crazy to know who did it and why. Suspense is an important tool for any genre and any book.
So how do you work suspense into your manuscript? Here’s five ways.
1. Ask a Question
The simplest and most basic form of suspense, this is the building block from which good stories are made. Ask a question of the reader in the beginning of your story, and then answer it by the end. On the simpler end, this may be, “Where is Nemo?” We watch the movie to find out. The writers make the story deeper and more interesting by adding other question-layers on top of the first. “Can our fish hero overcome his overprotective parenting style?” is another important question for the story, and seeing him grow over the course of the movie keeps us watching. And, of course, we wonder if he’ll survive the sharks, the currents, etc. etc. along the way. Just as the overall story should have an important question that gets answered, so should every individual part of the story (the sharks, etc.).
Asking questions and answering them at a steady pace keeps the story moving forward and the reader happy. Too many unanswered questions at a time and the reader feels frustrated. Too few—or none—and the reader doesn’t have a reason to keep reading. Ideally, keep one to three story questions unanswered at any given time—until you answer all of them with a neat bow at the end.
2. Give Incomplete Information, or Give the Character a Secret
Instead of telling us a character’s entire past at once, leak out information slowly. We’ll get to know them over time like we would a real person. For this to be a method of suspense, though, you’ll need to identify what the reader doesn’t know early. You’ll need to hint, and then continue to hint and fill in information as you go—giving just enough information to keep the reader interested.
For example… Keep Reading at SavvyAuthors
Leave a Reply