Five Ways To Generate Suspense
  • Suspense, which isn’t a genre but a specific manifestation of plot, is when you can’t put the book down because you must learn what happens next.

    Suspense is when you’re champing at the bit.

    Here are five ways to keep readers in suspense:

    5. Arrange your events in such a way that readers will wonder about the outcome.

    If a storyteller gives away all that’s going to happen, the story won’t hold interest. But neither will the storyteller hold interest if he doesn’t give you any idea where the story is heading. Feed readers information gradually — which is to say, release your information in a step-by-step fashion, so that the reader will gobble up your information like so many breadcrumbs.

    4. Misdirect your reader.

    If you think a story is going one way but the story takes a drastic turn, you will continue reading.

    3. Make the events of your story meaningful.

    An event is something that happens in actuality. If, for example, your main character drives down to the bar and that is all, this IS an event. But it’s not a very meaningful one. If, however, your main character sits down at the bar and the lady next to him immediately throws a drink in his face and says “You bastard!” — well, that is a more meaningful event, provided there’s a motive behind it and you the writer disclose the source of the conflict.

    2. Create interesting characters.

    Characters who possess strong qualities go a long way in holding a reader’s interest.

    1. Give readers something to worry about.

    A professional writer I once over-served says he begins every story NOT by establishing a plot-line but by establishing “a line of anxiety.” By this he means, a sequence of events that will cause people to worry. In order to manage such a thing, you must create a clash which in reason will interest your reader. I say “in reason” because inconsequential events — such as getting your scalp massaged or your knob polished — are really not strong enough to make your readers worry.

    Holding the readers interest is the total goal. In determining whether an event is interesting, ask yourself this: Is there any good reason why I myself would be interested in this episode? Are the values presented herein significant enough to worry about?

About The Author

Ray Harvey

I was born and raised in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado. I've worked as a short-order cook, construction laborer, crab fisherman, janitor, bartender, pedi-cab driver, copyeditor, and more. I've written and ghostwritten several published books and articles, but no matter where I've gone or what I've done to earn my living, there's always been literature and learning at the core of my life.

2 Responses and Counting...

  • Rosalyn 02.22.2012

    As a reader, who LOVES the sensation that grips my brain, makes my heart beat faster, prevents me from regaining control of my fingers in order to put a book down–all of which is derived from the “specific manifestation of a plot”–I totally appreciate this post.

    As a writer, who aspires to be an author who can grab hold of a reader’s attention and KEEP it, I understand that these five practices are important to remember. Thanks for sharing!

  • Hi Rosalyn. It’s nice to see you.

    I read the other day on your website that you’re giving up fiction for lent! My dear, that is one big sacrifice — in light of your love of literature, especially. I wish you the best.

    And thank you for dropping by.

Leave a Reply

* Name, Email, and Comment are Required