Suspense is What You Make It

I’m in suspense. I haven’t checked the weather channel yet. Do I need an umbrella? How about a snow shovel? A sweater or a heavy coat? Hey, this is Pennsylvania. They’re all possible at any given moment. Only time will tell. And so should it be with our writing – possibilities, but only time will tell. Throw in a twist here and there and mix thoroughly with suspense, and you have a good start for your tale. Let me give you some thoughts on suspense. What do you think? How do you build suspense? Let me know in the comments below.

1: Raise the Stakes

Two basic questions you need to answer are 1.) What does your protagonist want or need? 2.) Why does it matter? Let your character show your readers the answers to those questions? Although difficult to write at times, first person POV may be an excellent opportunity to allow your audience to see the goal through your character’s eyes.

2: Keep the End Zone Just Out of Reach

I love to watch football, but it irritates me when my team gets close to the goal line but fails to score. I feel all kinds of emotion from upset to anger to frustration. Isn’t that what fiction writing is about? To get your readers to react emotionally? Let them feel the “so close, but so far away” feeling that your character feels. Offer hope. Then take it away. Of course, we can overdo it. So slide in some minor victories along the way.

3: Throw in a Surprising Limitation.

Think the Nancy Kerrigan/Tanya Harding ordeal. Both were excellent skaters ready to compete against each other until the enemy crushed Nancy’s leg, eliminating her from competition. Her hopes were dashed, at least temporarily.

4: Raise the Fear Factor

Reveal what could happen should things not work out. Sometimes a quick detour into hypotheticals can be a way to scare your audience into sympathizing with the protagonist.

5: Morality and Cognitive Dissonance.

Give your protagonist a potential solution, but make it an unfavorable option. Could s/he accomplish the goal but at an exorbitant price? Maybe the death of a loved one? The demise of a marriage? Questions of morality can spellbind and hold your reader captive. I say, “Go for it!”

Well, gotta check the weather channel. Maybe we’re in for an ice storm. Enjoy your week whatever the weather brings, and I’ll see you next Wednesday!



6 thoughts on “Suspense is What You Make It

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