Every story-writer wants a good, suspenseful story for their readers. Good suspense keeps your readers interested in the book and makes them want to read more.
When I read books, I normally have a time limit for how long I should be reading. Well, if I get a really good book on my hands, then sometimes it’s hard to stop reading. I find myself saying, “I’ll just read one more chapter, then I’ll stop”, then I get to the end of the chapter (which, in a well-written book, always ends in a cliffhanger), and I just can’t stop. I have to keep going. This is exactly how you want your readers to feel when they read your story.
If you can keep your readers always just wanting to read “one more chapter”, then they will keep reading, and reading, and reading… until they finish your book. This is especially good if you’re writing a series because once that first book is done, they have to buy the next one.
But you don’t only want to just make a suspenseful book to keep your readers reading. People love books full of excitement. No one wants to read a dry, boring, factual book. If you’re able to give your readers some action, some drama, or any kind of suspense, then they’ll love it.
So, now the question is, how do you do this? Here are three ways how:
1. Don’t Tell your Readers Everything
This is especially true for the beginning of your story. Don’t explain everything right away. You always want your first few paragraphs to be something exciting. The only thing the readers really need to know is the main character’s name (or the name of the person’s perspective that it’s written in), and then whatever is happening in that scene.
Some books start out with all the details about the character; like where they live, what they do, their backstory, and everything else. But if you leave some blanks in the first part of your story, that will make your reader wonder why your character is doing certain things or not, and that will make them want to keep reading to find out.
The only thing you want to be careful of is that you don’t wait too long to tell your main character’s story. You don’t want your story to be so confusing that your readers give up trying to guess what it’s about.
The best time to go into your character’s “extra details” and backstory is when there’s a short lull in the excitement. Write more about your character when they’re sitting down to take a break, or driving home in their car, or when something big isn’t happening. Be careful not to make these breaks too long, but still make sure that you give enough information.
2. Give the Main Character Two hard Decisions to Make
One of the very best ways to create suspense is to give your main character (or possibly a side character) a hard decision to make. If they choose the first decision, one thing will be destroyed but the other won’t, and vice versa.
When the outcome of the book is all up to one character, that really creates suspense. Readers will wonder what the character will choose, and how it will affect everything.
When using this technique, make sure not to give the character all the time in the world. Make a time limit for how long they can take to decide. If there’s a time limit, then it will make the decision even more suspenseful and hard. And that’s the third way to create good suspense.
3. Create A Time Limit
If your characters have all the time in the world to make a decision or do a certain thing, then your story wouldn’t be quite as interesting. It’s much better to add a time limit, something to force your character to go faster.
For example, let’s say your character was trapped in a room with no way out. Well, that’s kind of suspenseful, but to really make that scene exciting, give the character a deadline. Maybe there’s a bomb set in the room that will go off in ten minutes. Or maybe if the character doesn’t get out, the bad guy will destroy everything. Or both are happening at the same time. That’s what makes for good suspense.
Conclusion & Writing Challenge
Cliffhangers are hard, but with practice, you can master making your book the suspenseful page-turner that everyone wants to read. Once you master the ability to write suspensefully, you’ll find that getting your readers excited and wanting to read more comes easily to you.
For this week’s writing challenge, I challenge you to write a few pages, probably no more than ten, of a suspenseful scene. Try to incorporate one or more of the three elements I mentioned in this article. Don’t make things super complicated. Just place your character in a difficult situation.
If you found this article helpful, or if you have any comments or suggestions, please leave a comment below. Thanks for reading!