Adding Novel Suspense

By: Ken Brown
Published: 11/10/2020

How to Make Your Reader keep Reading Long into the Night

I was re-reading my second book, Zita's Revenge, preparing it for the final edit and I like what I'm reading, except for one point.

When I read a Lee Child book, one of his Jack Reacher series, he can create suspense so you want to keep reading, forcing your heartbeat to pump a little faster and harder. I try to replicate that suspense in my novels, but I'm not seeing it on the scale that Lee Child uses the technique.

Add suspense to your novel by using foreshadowing.

Foreshadow to Increase Suspense.

In my books, I work hard to encourage the reader to continue on to the next chapter. I use cliffhangers, end the chapter with a question or finish the chapter a paragraph early forcing the reader to question what happened after that point. But I think my writing misses the suspense that is caused by all events leading up to the explosive ending.

To add suspense to your writing you have to learn foreshadowing. Good suspense is a combination of your POV character wanting something with great desire and the possibility of outside forces preventing your character from reaching his goal.

In the photo above, is the woman celebrating reaching the top of the cliff or plans to jump off the mountain because of a lost love, bad business decision or miscarriage? A good writer foreshadows the woman's reason for being on the mountain top and makes the reader hope for some form of rescue before she jumps.

I'm working on a prequel to my first book and I realized that my character wanted something in chapter 12, but he had been captured and sits in the castle dungeon. To make this scene pack a bigger punch, I need to foreshadow the POV character's desire to be included in a specific ceremony. This allows the character to take a larger risk to escape the dungeon than he might if he just didn't like being in the dungeon anymore.

This summer there have been numerous hurricanes and tropical storms. One of the things that add suspense is the weather forecasters predicting the path of the hurricane. Will it land in your hometown? What if your only daughter's wedding is occurring that weekend. Now the suspense of the hurricanes path becomes real and more exciting as you watch its direction change eight days out, six days out and even two days before landing. Do you cancel the wedding?

Increase the tension.

How about Grandma and Grandpa driving to the wedding from the Northeast? Do you tell them to stay home? Will they encounter fingers of the storm before they reach your city?

Increase the tension.

Do you board up your windows, just in case? How will that affect the lighting for photos? Did you plan an outdoor wedding? Increase the tension.

Add reasons your character must be someplace and foreshadow their desire helps produce tension and suspense. Foreshadow it early and the reader's tension ramps up with each passing chapter or each exciting scene.

"The more suspense you want to create, the longer you have to suspend the payoff." Donald Maass

Photo by Valdemaras D. on Unsplash