What Are the Elements of Suspense? A Guide for Writers

What Are The Elements Of Suspense

Just what are the elements of suspense when you’re interested in this type of writing? Believe it or not, writing suspenseful novels doesn’t have to be complicated or difficult. Just like other genres, you simply have to learn a few tips and rules to complete a job well done, and it all starts with the following information.

A Few of the Basics

Suspense novels can also be called thrillers, literary fiction, or even mystery writing. If it includes any type of suspenseful moment, it falls under this category. Giving your readers a hint of suspense and some edginess is a great way to keep their interest for a while, and below are some of the things you can do to accomplish this task.

  • Less action, more promises. Stop readers from getting bored, not by adding more action to the story, but by adding more apprehension. You have to consider that anticipation is a result of suspense, while action is the end result, or the payoff.
  • Instead of describing every detail yourself, let the characters do it for you. This doesn’t mean that every detail has to be told by the characters, but this scenario gives the novel a little more suspense and makes it much more interesting.
  • Try to anticipate what your readers want. Stay a step ahead of them so that you can create a story that appeals to their phobias and fears. You have to give readers what they want, when they want it, and give them even more than that.
  • When creating jeopardy or trouble for the characters, make sure it is the characters that your readers are attached to. If it’s an evil or unpopular character, the readers won’t care as much, so always make sure it is your main character when describing a tumultuous situation.
  • Always keep your promises. Keep in mind that readers are intelligent beings, and if you promise something in your novel, they are going to be waiting for you to deliver on that promise. Promises without fulfilment is not a type of suspense; they are mere disappointments.
  • Don’t rely so much on violence. Violence is a part of many novels, but you shouldn’t rely on violent scenes to be the source of reader suspense. Again, anticipation in a violent scene will lead to more suspense, so think of it that way.

There is also a big difference between surprise and suspense. Surprise happens when readers discover something they weren’t prepared for, whereas suspense is when readers are waiting for something that they know might happen at any time. People who are curious about practical examples of suspense only need to review some of the films by Alfred Hitchcock, who wasn’t called “the master of suspense” for nothing.

Let’s Get More Specific

So, what are the elements of suspense that have to be kept in mind when you’re writing your novel? There are some detail-oriented, practical suggestions that you can follow if you want to create suspense in a reader’s mind. Suspense is usually directly related to a buildup of some sort, and the following are some tried-and-true tips for creating that suspense.

  • Make sure the readers know more about what’s going on than your characters.
  • Make sure the readers have compassion and empathy for all of your characters.
  • Have the characters make decisions that the reader will know is going to put them in jeopardy later on in the story.
  • Make the protagonist handicapped in some way, either emotionally, physically, or mentally.
  • Make sure the protagonist is unaware of all of the obstacles, whether they are individuals or something else.
  • Create a confrontation that makes people nervous. In novels, these confrontations are usually between the protagonist and the antagonist. These are perfect for creating suspense.
  • Get to the heart of the matter. When you create a feeling of “I almost had a heart attack” for the readers, you’ll know you’ve successfully created some suspense in their minds.
  • Always make your characters complex. Don’t make them plain and boring, including your protagonist. Layers of complexity in the characters create suspense in a reader’s mind.
  • Create a shocking twist somewhere in the story – something the readers would have never anticipated. This makes a story especially suspenseful.
  • Decide what your thriller is really about, and ask yourself questions such as, what will the readers take away from the story? Is there hope for justice in the story?
  • Create shorter sentences to create more suspense. Think about how you talk when you’re out of breath. The same rule applies to creating suspense.
  • Make time limitations a part of the story. That way, the readers know it won’t be long until something interesting happens.
  • Foreshadow important events in the book. In other words, let readers know what happens in the future to a certain character or to the storyline.
  • Use adverbial clauses of time. These include sentences such as, “Before I got to my car, I felt someone directly behind me.”
  • Make sure you work on your character development. Show a character moving forward with a goal, then taking steps backwards, or relay unexpected details about your main character’s background so that readers anticipate what will happen next.
  • Create complications to the plot. This way, readers are anticipating problems, and they aren’t sure if or when those problems will occur.
  • Alter the perspective of your characters at some point. Or, you can leave the end of the story as a cliffhanger so that readers will anticipate what will happen in future stories.

Tricks and Ideas You May Not Have Thought of

Tricks And Idea You May Not Have Thought of

Discovering, what are the elements of suspense in a suspenseful novel means finding things that work, and before that comes learning all about this genre so that you know what you’re doing every step of the way. If you want readers anxious and a little nervous about turning the next page of your book, here are some additional things you can do:

  • Understand the difference between suspense and mystery. When it’s suspense, the readers know what is going to happen from the beginning; they just don’t know when it will happen.
  • Let the reader have some foresight. Remember, they cannot anticipate what is going to happen unless they know something is going to happen early on in the story.
  • Always make the stakes very high. The crisis has to rock the protagonist’s world, and the readers have to be able to empathize with the protagonist.
  • It is better when the protagonist is working under some sort of pressure, because pressure adds to the suspense.
  • Always include some type of dilemma in your story. Make it seem like it’s a “lose-lose” situation for the protagonist.
  • Make things unpredictable and complicated. The easier and more predictable the story is, the less suspense the reader will feel.
  • Make sure both the villain and the hero are good at what they do! The story is always better with both a strong hero and a strong villain.
  • Make the character haunted by past failures. Have characters’ past mistakes come back to haunt them.
  • Create an external event that the main character has no control of. Lack of control in the protagonist is always suspenseful.
  • Mention nightmares that eventually become reality. This is both suspenseful and scary.
  • Have both a setting and tone that are ripe for suspense. Use timing, pace, emotions, and even vocabulary to accomplish this.

Remember, a strong protagonist requires a strong antagonist, and creating elements of surprise always heightens the suspense level felt by the readers. In other words, you need strong main characters and situations that the readers didn’t expect to keep them in suspense. You can also:

  • Increase and rely on your readers’ emotions to set them up for suspense.
  • Add uncertainty any time a solution to a character’s problem has finally been solved.
  • Don’t give all of the information to the readers right in the beginning. Spread it out over the course of the book.
  • Make sure the reader cares about the solution to the problem.
  • Let there be many small losses and small wins along the way.
  • Let the protagonist think he has passed the “test” and found the solution to the problem.
  • Create conflict between two people, or a person and him/herself.

As you can see, suspense requires some planning and a lot of elements of surprise, but it all starts with strong characters and a strong storyline. You can conceal the answers until you’re ready to give them away, and create a lot of tension during a critical scene. You can also kill off a character unexpectedly or add one later on that gives the story a little extra tension. There are lots of ways to increase the suspense felt by your readers.

Some Final Thoughts For What Are The Elements Of Suspense

Some Final Thoughts

It may seem complicated to create a suspense-filled story, but all it really takes is practice and some basic rules for it to work properly. You don’t have to be a genius or even a professional writer to write the perfect suspense novel; all you need is some due diligence so that you can find out the secrets to this task, and you’re all set!