Last Updated on January 15, 2023 by Dr Sharon Baisil MD
The best way to instill suspense and keep readers reading is by posing an excellent dramatic question in their minds. We discussed what a dramatic question is in Monday’s article. We’ll talk about how to employ it best now. When a reader is unsure what will occur in a tale — whether during a single scene/chapter or across the story’s entire arc — suspense manifests as tension. Anything that grabs readers’ attention may create tension, whether it’s a love triangle or a serial murderer on the loose.
If you’re looking to write a thriller that will keep the reader on the edge of their seat, you need to learn how to write a suspenseful story. Suspense is about keeping the reader engaged until the very end, and there are a few fundamental techniques you can use to achieve this. By following these tips, you’ll be able to craft an exciting story that will leave readers riveted to the pages. Ready to learn how to write a suspense story that will make readers scream? Let’s begin!
What sort of suspense tale is the following?
By instilling anticipation, writers develop their storylines and keep readers engaged. The reader’s anticipation, or even dread, for the characters as they encounter challenges during the plot is what suspense is.
By having two teenagers explore an old, creepy mansion on Halloween night, an author creates anticipation. When the youngsters hear a weird creaking sound from upstairs in the home, the author adds to the mystery.
By what the reader knows, an author may create anticipation. For example, to keep a reader from knowing all of the details, an author may change the point of view from one character to another. One chapter is about a mother who is concerned about informing her daughter that she has a fatal disease from the perspective of the mother. The following chapter, written from the perspective of a daughter who is ecstatic to inform her mother that she is expecting, is about a mother.
Examples from film and literature
Shakespeare builds anticipation in Romeo and Juliet by withholding information from the protagonists that the audience does. Juliet has committed herself, but Romeo is unaware of this. That’s a tense moment when he discovers her in the tomb and wants to kill himself.
Ending a movie, episode, or season of a show with a cliffhanger is used in many films and television shows to build anticipation. Rey, for example, is seen handing an older Luke Skywalker a lightsaber at the close of The Force Awakens, a Star Wars film. The audience is in suspense until the next film comes out because the film concludes with this cliffhanger.
J.K. Rowling builds suspense in several of the Harry Potter books by having Harry and his friends unravel the details of Voldemort’s evil plans a little at a time. For instance, when Harry overhears portions of talks or is given Dumbledore’s permission just enough to be helpful, the reader is typically not informed of the whole tale until the end.
What are the types of suspense? [With examples]
Two types of suspense based on story structure
Knowing the difference between narrative and short-term suspense is the most important thing to know when it comes to story structure. The first draws the reader’s attention, and the second keeps them interested from minute to minute. Both are present in a great book.
1 – Long-term or narrative suspense
This is a term used to describe any form of literary suspense that builds throughout the narrative. You start a novel with a query, issue, or enigma, then reveal more about it as the story progresses and resolve it near the conclusion.
You want to constantly suggest the resolution of this form of suspense while constructing it. Yet you don’t want to bore your reader; the constant anticipation of an impending reveal may make them feel tense and eager. Therefore, character growth, non-suspenseful story development, or a new suspense arc should be used to counterbalance this pressure.
There are two narrative suspense arcs in To Kill A Mockingbird: 1) What will happen to Tom Robinson is a question that haunts him. and 2) The anticipation of the unknown Boo Radley. At the start, both problems are mentioned, and as the story goes on, they gain traction and ultimately intersect at the conclusion when Boo Radley protects the children from Bob Ewell during the Robinson trial.
2 – Short-term suspense
Short-term anticipation is a scenario or scenario of expectation in which the reader experiences a strong response. This might be a distraction or subplot, or it could be related to the book’s long-term conflict. Cliffhangers — scenes or chapter endings that leave the reader hanging on the edge of their seat — are one of the greatest uses of short-term suspense.
Many chapters of Liane Moriarty’s latest book, Truly Madly Guilty, end with intriguing cliffhangers, including Liane Moriarty (the current queen of short-term thrillers).
There was a tremendous crash of crockery and an extraordinary scream that tore through the night: “Clementine!”
The pressure doesn’t last long when we discover why this character is yelling in the following few scenes. As the narrative suspense builds and is resolved quickly, this helps keep readers engaged page by page.
Three types of suspense based on the style and genre of the book
Let’s move on to specifics now that we’ve discussed structural suspense. Depending on the genre and style of your book, you don’t have to include all of the following suspense categories.
1 – Mysterious suspense
In thrillers and, of course, mystery books, mysterious anticipation is the most common kind of anticipation. Mysterious suspense is distinguished from all other kinds of suspense because something is purposefully hidden from the reader. They’re kept on their toes because they know they don’t have the whole picture.
Jane notices a series of odd events at Thornfield Hall, including an inexplicable fire and an assault on a visitor, in Jane Eyre. Mr. These events, Rochester explains to her, are just the consequence of a servant’s odd actions. Jane dismisses the occurrences after they get engaged.
A guy, on the other hand, approaches to tell Rochester that he is already married during their wedding ceremony. Rochester’s insane wife is identified as the catalyst for all of the events, and it’s revealed that she has been kept in the attic. Rochester had been concealing Jane (and the reader) away from the truth all along.
2 – Comedic/romantic suspense
When the reader doesn’t know what will happen, romantic or comedic suspense is possible, although it is generally less intense than other kinds of suspense. Consider the question of “will they get together?” in our Pride and Prejudice example.
Romantic suspense might be found in lighthearted or more dramatic fiction, such as harlequin romances. Farce, on the other hand, is practically synonymous with comedic suspense. One well-known type of dramatic irony is when the reader knows something that not all of the characters know and is waiting to see how they’ll react to it.
Viola pretends to be a young man to serve as a servant for Duke Orsino in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Viola (referred to as Cesario) is required by the Duke to deliver love letters to Olivia, who he loves. However, Olivia falls in love with Viola (in disguise as Cesario), which backfires. Viola, on the other hand, has fallen in love with the Duke despite not knowing she is a woman.
3 – Horrific suspense
When the reader knows something horrible is about to occur, but the specifics of it remain unknown, such as waiting for a jump scare in a movie, terrible suspense is at hand. As one might anticipate, it’s most prevalent in horror and thriller books.
Horrifying suspense is less unclear and more predictable than mysterious suspense, despite their similar names. In addition, horrific suspense is usually used in the short term rather than the long term, because it is less satisfying than finding the truth.
The infamous “hobbling” scene from Stephen King’s Misery is perhaps the most horrific of all the horrors in the book. The reader is well aware by this point in the story that their antagonist, Annie Wilkes, is dangerously unstable and contributes to their growing terror.
4 simple steps to writing a suspense story
The term “suspense” refers to raised emotions. Would you want your reader to be breathless, uneasy, and intrigued about what’s going on and what’ll come next? You’ll need to comprehend and utilize suspense if you want to succeed.
Step 1: Create a mood or setting
The setting affects how your reader feels about your novel’s plot, whether it is about a murder, a missing girl, a lost puppy, or some other kind of crime.
Utilize all the senses
Whether you’re creating epic fantasy or a slow-paced psychological thriller, you must create a world. The illusion is gone when your reader can’t discern where the characters are or lose their place in the environment. You should use all of your senses, not just in each scene, but also throughout the whole film.
Use cheesy romance tropes
What irritates you (or your character)? Is it the scent of a youngster or the sound of a music box playing a particular song? Since your character is single and lives alone, perhaps rose petals on the floor quicken his heart. Then give it a mood and a personality based on your location. The area is critical, but it’s the way you feel that matters most.
Step 2: Character development
The capacity to generate challenges is one of the main appeals of character development in suspense. Every character, including your guest stars, must be fully fleshed out.
Brown hair, blue eyes, and a chiseled jaw A scowl wrinkle her beyond her forty or so years, and she has a swinging ponytail that harkens back to a cheerleader. Maybe he has a scar over his brows, maybe not. Isn’t that already too much? Maybe… or maybe not.
Develop all characters
The game’s name is depth. Your characters should come to life and emerge as complete individuals in your reader’s mind. When someone opens a book, there is one thing he or she may anticipate. Your reader wishes to be immersed in your tale and transported to your world. Flat characters with little to say or think will quickly take the reader out of your exceptional world-building.
Keep some secrets from the readers
Lies may both harm and assist people. Everyone, including oneself, may lie to others.
Whether the secret is a stolen deed, a dead body in the basement, or a lover, characters with secrets at stake for suspense are common. The anticipation of the unknown being exposed can be thrilling.
Now consider the following situations: a nose discovers the dead body in the basement, and a lover observes the lover fleeing out the window. You’re holding your breath as you read this. Their heart might race as they wait for the other shoe to drop. You may add more or less tension to alter the sensation from creepy to terrifying, depending on which point of view you utilize.
When your character heard the sound of her window breaking when she was five years old, imagine that she locked herself in the closet. Your character was too terrified to shout for her mother, although she didn’t join her. A scream was the next thing she heard. She next detected pennies in the air. After enough time had passed and the room was quiet enough, she opened the closet door to see her Mommy laying out on her pink floral bedspread. Her favorite teddy bear sat on the floor, its mother’s severed neck pouring over its ears and covering the flowers in blood.
Trauma in the past determines who a person is at a certain period in time; trauma in the present may affect a person’s core, altering them dramatically. Trauma is both physically and emotionally intense. It may be difficult to interpret, and care should be taken to avoid making descriptions that are too detailed (particularly with real victims in mind). The emotion behind it may be lost if there are a lot of gruesome details. Yet, your readers may breathe easier since it was done with care. So, isn’t that what we want from suspense?
Desires and wants affect actions
This one is really easy. Humans can act on impulse, concentrate on wants before needs, and be motivated by desire. That wouldn’t be enjoyable to read if all of your characters were like that. However, desire is a strong driving force, and it’s not always beneficial. You can create suspense without much effort if your want or desire conflicts with another character or social norms.
The origins of a person can reveal a lot about them, or it can influence how others perceive them. By using that information, the reader’s breath will be held every time that character appears on a page because of the increased emotion surrounding them. It might also be a source of pride for the character, or it might be another piece of the puzzle.
Having the guts to change can be good or bad
Picture superpowers as you think of them. It appears that characters within them may at any time go dark. We’re not recommending that, but we are advocating that certain characters be more susceptible to influence than others. Even if it’s a drug addict who’s cured, that might be a good thing. You could also use it in a tense situation, such as an impressionable kid being teased into assaulting another.
The reader needs pieces of the puzzle to sort through as they go along, whether you’re telling the story from a third-person perspective or first-person. Although that is the case in certain situations, those elements do not always have to fit.
Why do clues need to be present in the first chapter? Because readers are encouraged to begin there.
On page one, the adventure begins, and you should hook them right away. Use time wisely because it is valuable. Drop in hints to keep them interested after you’ve hooked them with your message and tale. The objective of the strategy is to “How can I stop reading when I don’t know who did it?”
Let the narrative emerge before you are concerned about the little aspects, no matter what your first draft style is. In the first draft, a character with a minor bruise that mentions self-harm isn’t required. That may be done in one of the many revisions after the initial, throughout the book at suitable intervals.
Just because the cup is crucial later doesn’t mean you should toss in a character noting a missing one as they enter the kitchen. Have them comment on it while doing the dishes. Make sure your clues are relevant to the reader’s interests, or they’ll stick out like a sore thumb.
Humans versus humans is an intriguing and relatable topic. Side tales and plotlines may heighten the tension as the characters are divided, and their tales collide at a high point. There is friction when a person lies to themselves. Keeping the falsehoods hidden generates internal stress, which may sometimes result in external conflict.
Writing a suspenseful story can be fun as you can unleash your creativity and come up with anything. That’s why we focused on the advice listed above to help you. Just follow the steps and create your next thriller!
Can you write a love story with suspense in the end?
Absolutely! Writing a love story with suspense is an excellent way to keep your readers on their feet and guessing until the very end. By developing characters that are likable but conflicted, you can create a compelling plotline that will bring readers back time and again. This type of writing allows for more emotional engagement between the reader and writer, which ultimately results in better content.
As you might already know, creating tension and building anticipation are essential tools for any good storyteller. To do this effectively, make sure to include mystery elements such as hidden motives or clues that remain undisclosed until the climactic scene. Throw in some unexpected turns of events just to see what direction your tale will take next! When done well, suspenseful fiction can be both thrilling and emotionally rewarding for all involved.
How do top writers determine what their audience wants?
There are a few things that Top Writers look for when determining what their audience wants. Some of the most important factors include identifying and focusing on specific keywords, studying the competition to see what trends they’re following, and staying up-to-date with industry trends. In addition, since consumers are more likely to stay longer if the content is interesting and amusing, writers must be able to create it.
To help them accomplish all of these objectives, Top Writers use various tools like keyword research tools or social media analytics platforms. To guarantee that they’re providing the best possible service, they also rely on their intuition as well as feedback from customers. Ultimately, writers need to stay informed about current consumer needs in order not only to meet those needs but exceed them by offering something unique or even better than expected!
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