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Suspense: A Clever Author's Huge Gift to Eager Readers

A critical aspect of any novel is suspense. Suspense creates questions in readers' minds and triggers the problem-solving part of the brain to anticipate possible answers. Your reader will continue reading to find the answers and see if any possibilities they've imagined were correct. The best novels are those that end with a plot twist your reader never saw coming!

How can you build suspense in a novel?

There are three ways to build suspense - either you withhold critical information to create questions in your reader's mind or use the desires or challenges of the protagonist to create tension. Another technique is to provide information to the reader that the protagonist doesn't have. It will form the main storyline and consist of small steps to resolve or answer those questions. 

How can you use suspense in your novel?

Not only is suspense critical to keep readers interested, but it also has other benefits for the reader.

Create a problem that they have to solve

In a murder mystery, the reader tries to figure out the culprit's identity. The author can give them the advantage of providing clues the protagonist doesn't have by using a third-person omniscient point of view or creating an unexpected plot twist by withholding vital information. 

Create feelings of dread and fear

In horror fiction, the author creates a mood by describing the setting. He involves all the senses, from the eyes that see dark clouds gathering, hearing branches snapping in the forest, feeling goosebumps on the skin, and smelling the cloying scent of the villain. It all helps create a feeling of impending doom, enhanced by the character's self-talk. 

Time pressure and physical danger

Authors often use these techniques in archaeological suspense novels. The protagonist is in a race against time to find the treasure before the antagonist. He usually finds himself in physical danger, not only from the antagonist doing anything possible to hinder his progress but also the threat posed to him by the quest himself. Think of the hero scaling cliffs without proper gear, diving deep into the ocean, exploring caves with hidden creatures, facing the possibility of avalanches on snowy mountains, etc. 

Expectations and surprise

Foreshadowing creates anticipation in your reader of possible events to come. The author creates suspense when the protagonist knows about the event through internal self-talk. If he doesn't expect the event, your readers will follow him on his path to the inevitable. Either way, they want to see how the event will play out. 

Here you have an opportunity to surprise your reader with an unexpected plot twist. You can create an event that steers the hero on a different path, end the event in another way than expected, or end the storyline in a cliffhanger

Character development

The strengths and weaknesses of your characters add to the suspense and help your reader relate to them. When the protagonist finds himself in a dangerous situation, it creates anxiety in the reader about their fate. Or use it to develop valid motives for the villain's evil deeds. The villain should be on par with the protagonist, making the hero's win in the end challenging and realistic. 

We see that suspense is a valuable tool in the author's kit to draw the reader in, get them involved in the story, and keep them turning the pages to see where the story will take them. Writers - which one of these techniques will you try next?


- How to Create Suspense in Writing

- 10 Tips for Amplifying Suspense in Your Writing


Written by Readers’ Favorite Reviewer Susan van der Walt