Suspense is a vital tool in producing successful fiction. If you can maintain suspense throughout the story, readers will keep glued to the page even if some elements of the story remain underdeveloped.
Building suspense is all about creating anticipation in your readers. You feed them a crumb, dangle the bread, drop a slice and so on without ever giving the whole loaf until you want to relieve the tension.
Here are some ways you can build suspense in your own writing.
- Put your characters in unusual situations. The less typical the situation is, the more intriguing it will be and the more the reader will want to know how it all ends.
- Create a sense of impending danger. You know that scene used in many movies where a car loses its brakes while it’s headed straight to a cliff? All the sequence that happens between the driver realizing the brakes are gone and the car falling off (or magically being safe) makes for great suspense. Just keep the action believable, though.
- Play to people’s fears. A lot of people are afraid of heights. As such, putting a scene on the roof of a high-rise building where your characters can fall any second makes for excellent suspense.
- Tell lies. Not you, but your characters. Make them tell untruths to throw off the reader.
- Pose an intriguing question. You can either be literal, spelling out the question (e.g. “Will he die? No one really knows”, or subtle, letting the reader form the question based on events that happen (e.g. “Gasping for air, he knew he had to get out or die before the next five minutes are over”). Both will work.