Every story no matter what the genre needs some suspense, and even a good romance novel will keep readers guessing with a few twists and turns. If you’re still learning to master this skill, here are six tips for creating the kind of tension and suspense that will keep your readers turning pages until the end.
1. Use deadlines
There is nothing like a deadline or ticking clock to instil a sense of urgency. Maybe your heroine is in a race against time to deliver an important package, or perhaps your handsome protagonist has to get to the airport in time to tell the love of his life not to catch her flight to Timbuktu.
2. Introduce challenges
Aside from deadlines, introducing challenges that your characters must take on in order to fulfil their mission can also heighten the suspense. For instance, your heroine may be forced to take a lengthy detour to throw off pursuers, and the man on his way to the airport might get stuck in rush hour traffic with only an hour left on the clock.
3. Make your main characters likable
Nothing you do will matter unless readers identify with or care about the character in distress. This means that aside from coming up with a great storyline, you need to spend time developing your characters. For example, an underdog might be seen as more sympathetic than a rich and powerful person, and giving someone a mysterious past, eccentric nature or natural talent can help him or her seem more interesting
4. Give your protagonist an antagonist
Just as every story needs at least one protagonist, it also needs an antagonist who provides conflict and drives the story along. It doesn’t need to be the stereotype of the evil villain either; the antagonist could take on the form of a humourless supervisor at work, a caring but misguided friend or even a force of nature like an impending storm or flood.
5. Leave readers hanging
If you want to create anticipation or anxiety about an outcome, switching perspectives before a big reveal or dramatic happening can be very effective. For example, if your hero has just discovered the real identity of the tarot card killer, rather than telling the readers who it is right then and there, you could leave them hanging while you explore another plotline.
6. Don’t give away too much too soon
Most importantly, don’t give away too much information too soon. The best stories are the ones that leave hints and clues without spoiling the ending. Think of movies like Fight Club or The Sixth Sense. After the truth has been revealed to you, it’s easy to look back and see how everything was leading up to the grand finale, but you only know it now because the writer wanted you to.