Tuesday, April 22, 2014

S is for Suspence

I have had members of my writers group grumble that they have read terrible books which aren't as good as theirs, but have somehow managed to get published. I look at the offending novel, and nine times out of ten I'm correct in working out what key ingredient the book contained - suspence.

It may have poor characters, a weak plot line, and even be twee.  But if there is  suspense, readers often stay with the work. Unfortunately, when they have finished the novel they feel cheated and resentful or they instantly forget the book.

So if you have tried to create suspense in your work here is a useful checklist to see if you are on track.


Have you managed to create a sense of anticipation? This is the echoey footsteps in the darkness or the clock ticking during the exam.
Have you raised the stakes? If someone has to work out a password it's not that exciting. If they have to crack the password in a certain time or before someone shoots a family member, you are raising the stakes.
Danger is a powerful way to increase suspense, this doesn't have to involve a gun. The danger must suit your characters personality. There are many types of danger, sexual danger, illness, emotional, psychological or spiritual dangers. Have you used any?
Do you have a ticking clock? Go through your work and find out how much time has passed in the story. Adding time pressure can be effective. 
Think about what happens if the clock is ticking, but your central character can't act because he's tied up with something else. Stephen King in Pet Sematary uses the mother to create suspense. She runs, but we all know that she can't get to her child fast enough to stop him being run over.
Next have you made use of the unknown? Climbing into the loft space, opening the box hidden in the wardrobe, checking the texts on the phone?
Stephanie Meyer climbed the charts with her Twilight series, what did she use? Sexual tension, will they, won't they - many TV series have used this successfully for years. 
Have you let the reader in on the secret or not? Do we the reader know about the body under the floor boards before the young couple move in? Do we know about the curse, or the shark in the water? 
Does your work contain a secret? Think about Psycho, what would the original audience have thought when they found out the truth about Norman Bate's mother?
Does your character have a flaw that can had to the suspence? Look at Indian Jones fear of snakes?

I hope this list gives you something to think about when you are reading your own work.


  1. And something to consider when I am less than captivated with other people's work. Thank you.

  2. This is a great list, Charlotte, thank you. It's a useful exercise to analyse a book once you've read it to see how the author made it work, or didn't, as the case may be. It's a good learning curve.

  3. Another great checklist, thanks. I hadn't thought about a character flaw leading to suspense, but that ol' fear of snakes for indie is a good example :)
    Sophie's Thoughts & Fumbles - A to Z Ghosts
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  4. This is a wonderful post Comley. I am sharing and thank you for stopping in on my blog. I followed yours via GFC as well.

  5. Always a good thing to keep in mind! One of my beta readers likes to talk about a graph of tension (or suspense), gradually building the suspense to a climax. She also dings me for a lack of suspense on occasion, so it's something I need to remember.

    And hooray, another Friday Flash'er! Thanks for coming by FAR Manor.

  6. You have to keep the reader hooked, for sure. Thanks for dropping by my blog, I appreciate it :)

  7. I totally agree - suspense is a must! And that relates to getting your pacing right.

  8. This is a great post. Thanks for these tips!

  9. I never thought of sexual tension as suspense but you are right. I definitely need to take a look at my work and see where I can add some in. Thanks.


  10. Thanks for stopping at my site. Good luck with your writing goals.

  11. This really did give me something to think about so thank you for that. I'll have to keep that in mind in the future. Great advice for today.

    LittleCely's Blog

  12. Lots of great ideas here for adding tension and suspense. Thanks!

  13. Sylvia, great ideas for writing suspense stories. Then I dropped down to read your comment about religion... you might want to read my story, "Acceptance". It is in the family stories section of my blog: http://gwynnsgritandgrin.com I think you may find it of interest.

  14. You have some awesome reminders here! Thanks for stopping by my blog ♥

  15. this is a good resource. thanks for sharing. :]

  16. You have a lot of good writing food to chew on...so I followed you : )

  17. Great ways to create suspense..I think of Hitchcock

  18. You are so right! I end all of my chapters with a cliffhanger.

    Btw, what does "twee" mean? Is it a British term?

  19. Hi,
    Great post. I have read a couple of books from Donald Maas and he says if you want to get a publishing contract, one of the major keys is tension. so I agree with one hundred percent.

    Pat Garcia

  20. Thanks for stopping by the other day.
    I'm shared between a need for suspense and clues in the book I read. There are a lot of books with suspense but not that many with subtle clues. Maybe I read Agatha Christie too much as a kid.

  21. OMG I love this post. You seriously just inspired me to infuse ideas into TWO of my works. My brain is on ultra-high thanks to this. You rock.

    Stopping by from the #atozchallenge !