24 Jun

Create Suspense in Fiction Part Three

Techniques for creating suspense - part threeIn part one and part two, I wrote about creating suspense with possible danger and lurking danger. As promised, I’m back with another technique for how you can create dramatic tension or suspense in your books. This one is does not have the word danger in it. Ready?


This is one that I hope all of you understand and use already. It relates directly to character goals. You present the reader with the character’s goal, some big moment the reader really wants the character to succeed at, and then put the character into enough trouble to make the reader unsure if the character will succeed after all. For example:

John, who recently married a tycoon’s daughter, wants desperately to impress his unapproving father-in-law. The father-in-law, after some coaxing from his daughter, sets John up with a big-shot job interview and tells him this is his chance to shine.
John’s excited for the opportunity and doesn’t want to blow it. Dressed in a new suit and power tie, he heads toward the city center. Half way there, his front right tire has a blowout. He reaches for his phone, but in his haste to get an early start, realizes he left it on his dresser at home.
That’s okay. He knows how to change a tire and if he hurries, he’ll still make it. He gets out the spare, but it seems low on air. There might be enough, but he won’t be able to tell until it’s under the weight of the car. He gets the tire on with barely enough time to still make it and holds his breath as he lowers the jack . . . .

See how that works? Present a goal the reader buys into and then make it seem like the character won’t be able to achieve it. If you’ve never read about the try/fail cycle, you may want to look that one up, as this kind of situation applies directly to that construct.

Okay, that’s it for today. The next technique I’ll present may be less intuitive, but it can create a great deal of suspense.

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