Readers should keep turning the pages and will not put the book down. By adding suspense to your writing, you engage your readers and keep them eagerly turning the pages. That’s what writers have to create: novels that are natural page-turners that critics will rave.
Writing a novel requires constant forward movement to get the readers excited to move on the next page or chapter. In order to sustain that forward movement, writers need to create suspense. But in order to make a novel suspenseful, we have to use strategies that inspire curiosity. If curiosity can kill a cat, these tips could be worth practicing.
In Medias Res
“In medias res” literally means “into the middle of things” in Latin. In creative writing, it means to start your story in the middle of the action to immediately engage the reader’s curiosity. Introduce the conflict early and often in your story. It can be external such as a physical threat, or internal such as a personal dilemma. Make the conflicts intense and unresolved. Then, gradually reveal the backstory why the characters act that way.
Ask a question
Usually these questions are implied. You as the narrator should pose a powerful and compelling question that drive the narrative. Readers don’t have the answer yet but you are forcing them to have a burning desire to find the answers.
A character’s plans are future-oriented and inherently suspenseful. When you force your character to announce what he wants, you guide the readers’ attention to his motives and how he plans to achieve it. This creates uncertainty about the outcome of a situation. Readers will keep asking if the character will succeed or not and should not predict their fates.
Secrets make us wonder who, what, and why. Hiding something within the chapters can solicit intrigue. If the secret is fairly minor, you may withhold it for the time required to turn the page. But if it’s intriguing though, you can hide it for several chapters, taking advantage of the forward movement created by the readers’ curiosity. This way, you can keep the wonder flowing by occasionally referring back to the mystery. If you introduce a secret in a prominent position, make sure the question the readers will form inside their head is thematically relevant. The question should not be a mere device to prod readers forward. Control the timing of key revelations. Don’t give away everything too quickly; let suspense build through well-timed reveals. Remember, we want to manipulate the readers without making them feel manipulated.
New characters create complications. When you introduce them at the chapter’s end, you give the character a big entrance, followed by a detailed introduction on the next chapter. This indicates his importance and contributes to the forward movement of the story.
Plots may be simple or complex, but suspense, and climactic progress from one incident to another, are essential.– H.P. Lovecraft
Just as arrivals predict change, so do departures. When something leaves or ends, life changes, too. Emphasizing ends and conclusions compels us to think about the possible consequences in the following chapters. Often, some stories start with something leaving, closure, or ending. Not only because it introduces a change in the character’s life, but also because it opens an opportunity for conflict.
Introduce a new problem
Creating fiction requires giving characters goals and flinging obstacles at them. New problems stimulate forward movement. You want readers to take heed, to anticipate the conflict this problem is bound to cause. One of my mentors told us in our scriptwriting workshop to push the character in one corner until he or she couldn’t do anything but to fight or push back.
Reverse expectations and red herrings
When characters fail to behave as we expect, they surprise us and the readers, too. Having said that there are only a few basic stories to tell, we begin to expect possible endings as well. Mislead your readers with false clues and plot twists. This can keep them guessing and engaged as they try to figure out what’s really happening. Plot twists are great, but when you reverse expectations, take care to maintain credibility.
Remember that the key to creating suspense is to keep readers engaged, make them care about the characters, and maintain a sense of anticipation. By employing these techniques, you can effectively add suspense to your writing and keep your audience captivated. But take note, there will be times that you need to slow down, too. Vary your movements. Good books require both fast pace and slow moments.