There’s nothing better than a riveting suspense novel, one that is full of excitement, thrills, tension, edginess . . . one that keeps the reader glued to the pages, wanting to find out what transpires . . . yet not really wanting the story to end . . . because it’s that good. (I’m reading one now; hence the compulsion to post about it.)
So, you’d like to write one and are wondering what helps make a suspense story good? Don’t reveal all. You want to grab a reader’s interest/curiosity from the get-go and that is done not just with the story or plot, but through the characters. There’s a problem or challenge, maybe a few, a mission or quest, maybe a few, that the protagonist (and/or main characters) has to pursue, and solve or resolve.
The protagonist, like the main characters, should have issues and/or a complicated past. Something drives him or her. Or maybe something makes him or her want to avoid the world. What incidents/events have molded the protagonist?
Teasing the reader here and there can add to the suspense. Perhaps Jim’s private-eye partner, Ralph, has been severely beaten. Jim is supposed to meet him at ten, and is waiting, eager to hear what information Ralph has received that will help them solve a puzzler of a case. The reader is aware of what has happened to Ralph; Jim is not. Tension builds . . . particularly if the thugs who’d done the dastardly deed have discussed meeting Jim at the rendezvous spot with the intention of “taking care” of him, too.
Perhaps certain characters are bleak or somber, mysterious or treacherous, deranged or self-centered; this makes them dangerous, intriguingly so. Revealing snippets of what makes them tick—or doesn’t—will keep the reader wanting to learn more. Will the somber and deranged Mr. Darke succeed in his desire to bring down a former ally? Can Ms. Perile convince her employer that a coworker is the saboteur and, subsequently, the reason the company lost a major account?
The reader should know more than the protagonist. Not everything, but more. Anxiety and hope want us to continue reading—and spur the protagonist. At the same time, the reader wants to be solving the mystery/dilemma with him or her. And there’s certain dread when the reader, like the protagonist, comes face to face with evil or terror, be it in the form of a serial killer, a maleficent boss, wicked wife, or pugnacious partner . . . or ghastly past.
Throw in surprises/shocks. Have something happen that comes from left field—something no one, character(s) and reader(s) alike, ever expected. Maybe someone unpredictably dies or proves to be a completely different person (be it via a personality change, revelation re background, or switch in intentions). As with mysteries, suspense novels should throw out a red herring or two, offer clues and/or foreshadowing, elements that create excitement, anticipation, and tension. The reader is dying to know what’s what.
Create suspense early and sustain it throughout the story. In each chapter, you want to have a question or two that remains unanswered; this will prompt the reader to continue to search for the answer(s). Perhaps reveal something startling or unforeseen in the last paragraph. Determine what works best, given the plot and characters, and have at it.
Additional storylines can be added—lesser ones. Perhaps you’d like to share action/dialogue between two villains or secondary characters; make certain it’s tight, of value-add, and interesting. Flashbacks can also help but keep them manageable and to a minimum.
Finally, before “the end” arrives, ensure all loose ends are tied up, because you truly want to avoid reader head-scratching.
Now, a great [suspenseFULL] read is beckoning my return.