How to Add Suspense to Your Writing

By Britney Pieta
“The suspense is killing me.” This is a very common cliché that is used when someone is waiting for something to happen and it hasn’t yet. The longer you hold your reader’s attention, the more shocking the surprise. It also will lead to a stronger emotional reaction. While most popular in mystery and horror stories, suspense can be built into any story no matter the genre. The few tips below will help you to create suspense in your writing that will keep your readers turning the page and wanting to come back for your next story.
Tips on Creating Suspence:
1.  Hook your readers right from the beginning with an introduction that starts in the middle of the action. This will leave your readers wanting to keep turning the pages to find out what is the problem.
Ex.   The knife cut right through the canvas. She pulled back in the dark and held her breath hoping the intruder would leave. She thought, How did it all go so wrong?… Could it be Bobby’s valentine?  And then a deeper slice ripped through the canvas just missing her heart. Beads of sweat were gathering on her lip and on the back of her neck. This was just the beginning…or was it the long torturous end…
2. Place your characters in a surreal situation of impending doom.
The above example places her either in a darkened backstage theater or an art gallery after hours with a person wielding a knife.
3.  Do not use a steady pace when telling the story. Speed up the narrative as the suspense increases.  Use shorter sentences and clipped dialogue. Next slow the pace down by writing longer sentences and slowing down the action with interruptions to create a cliffhanger .
Ex.  “ Duck!” Brad shoved Gil’s head down into the foxhole.
                “ Ah!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!“
          The shrapnel from the grenade made a gaping hole on the side of Brad’s face. His hand was trembling as the blood gushed forth.
          “Help!”  “Help!”
            ” Damit!!!”
“Mason!! Mason!!”
          Gil foolishly tried to yell over the sound of the artillery fire for Doc Mason who was the medic. He pulled Brad close adding pressure where he could to stop the bleeding. It seemed futile. The river of blood was everywhere. Filling-up the hole and soaking them both.
4.  Surprise readers with something that first appears normal.Nothing in life runs perfectly to plan for anyone. Make nothing straight-forward for the main character.
 Ex.  An average wedding day, workday, or holiday turns into earth’s doomsday.
 Ex. A person is driving and having fun listening to the radio when an alien spaceship forces the car off of the road
     5. Use the setting and mood to create suspense. It does not have to be a hit you over the head with the obvious approach of “it was a dark and stormy night!” It can be very subtle with something slightly-off to create an unsettling suspenseful situation.Ex. Jess loved the fall when all the bounty of the earth seemed to burst forth with its fruits. She lay in the grass feeling the warmth of the sun and smelling the crispness just starting in the air.Ex. “Hey Jess… Are you dreamin’ again? You are a dreamer, you are. Can’t get ahead in the world bein’ a dreamer. I can teach ya how to get ahead in this world.” Bob had a mocking tone and came over to her smelling like a stale empty whiskey bottle left over night in the barn . Jess immediate felt a sick feeling in her stomach.
            6. Create a really good hero and a really good villain. The hero is someone the readers are rooting for and the villain would be someone they love to hate. The above example gives us such an idea.
          Enjoy sharpening your story by using the suspense tips above. The more you use them in your writing, the more comfortable you will be and the more improved your stories will become as you draw you readers in.

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