Building Suspense in Your Story
There are 10 tools I use to build suspense in my stories. Without the basic foundation and proper storytelling tools, your book might not make it past the first read.
Evoke Emotion Create sympathetic characters that the audience likes and can relate to through their actions and dialogue. The reader wants to root for these characters, and want even flawed characters to have a chance at redemption.
Create Conflict At the heart of a compelling story is rising conflict. This is your chance to take the audience for a ride. If you craft a tight story with interesting opposing forces, the reader will go along. Things need to go wrong, there must be a feeling of impending doom.
Provide Opposition The main character or characters need a powerful opposition; it’s not easy manipulation but the basis of most compelling drama when your protagonist has to face someone or something that stands between them and their goal. The opposition should be in a position of strength. Your reader should be rooting for your main character to overcome insurmountable odds or a seemingly unbeatable enemy.
Build Expectation Give the reader the sense that something will happen, that there is an expectation for trouble. It’s important to build this in a believable way. The character should be flawed to the point of wondering if the hero or heroine is up to the challenge coming their way.
Increase Tension Let the audience know something that your characters don’t. If the audience is hooked, they’ll want to know what happens, and if it matches what they believe. Alfred Hitchcock was a master at this. He would show the audience a ticking time bomb hidden beneath a stadium seat – trouble is the protagonist doesn’t know it’s there. We become frantic with worry for our hero to avoid the horrible explosion we know is about to happen.
Use Surprise This can be dramatic or subtle, but it keeps the reader wondering what will happen next. Make it plausible. Notice I didn’t say believable. The surprise should be something that really could happen in the context of the story.
Create Immediacy If your reader cares about your characters, then they will care about what they are fighting for. It should be a tangible, relatable goal that people in some way can identify with.
Establish Consequences This is tied in with creating immediacy. As your reader gets more involved with your characters, they need to know that something important or terrible will happen if your main character or characters do not reach their goal.
Limit Time Establishing a finite time for your protagonist to reach his or her goal increases the suspense.
Maintain Doubt Nothing kills suspense like a foregone conclusion. This doesn’t mean to fill your novel with red herrings, because this may frustrate and ultimately put off your reader. But if you build suspense in a meaningful way, and leave room for doubt, you can draw the reader in and keep them thinking and guessing.
By using different elements to build suspense and tension, you can elevate your novel.. The truly memorable books that we always go back to are the ones that blend a compelling story that builds throughout the story with the characters that we want to see complete the journey.