Suspense Basics

My favorite leisure reading is mysteries because I like trying to figure out whodunit and why. It follows that I also like reading suspense, and I’m not alone. Many readers like the juggling of hope, fear, or time.

Here are some suspense basics you can try.

  • There’s something to fear. The bad thing hasn’t happened yet, and readers don’t want it to happen, but they fear that it may. The bad thing can be death, disappointment, financial ruin, moral injustice, capture by the enemy, or something like not being invited to the party.
  • There’s sympathy. Suspense involves the fear something bad may happen to someone whose side we’re on. We not only fear that it could happen, we anticipate when it could happen–and we don’t want it to.
  • There’s a force working on the side of good. But that force should be a surprise to the reader. A hero/heroine who just saves the day is not good because the reader gets cheated out of clues that help the reader figure out how the bad (whatever it is) will be defeated. You mustn’t keep a secret from the reader, but make sure the reader gets the enjoyment of figuring things out without being handed the answer too easily.
  • There’s a time limit. Play the suspense effort against time and work up to something (a revealed clue or event or observation or something else that will engage reader’s involvement).

The one complaint I hear the most from my mystery-reading friends is the author reveals either the who (villain) or the why (motive) too soon. Consider incorporating these suspense basics into your writing and void disappointing your reader. Happy writing!


5 Responses to Suspense Basics

  1. I’m working on a suspense now, so thanks!

    • How fun that you’re working on suspense. I tried writing a mystery once and discovered fiction writing is very difficult. Creating the entire world the characters live in and remembering who knew what when is not easy! I so much appreciate the work fiction writers do.

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