Readers should keep turning the pages and will not put the book down. That’s what novelists 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. 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.
1. Keep secrets
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. Remember, we want to manipulate the readers without making them feel manipulated.
2. Make plans
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. Readers will keep asking if the character will succeed or not.
3. Announce arrivals
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.
4. Schedule departures
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.
Plots may be simple or complex, but suspense, and climactic progress from one incident to another, are essential. – H.P. Lovecraft
5. Reverse expectations
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. Plot twists are great, but when you reverse expectations, take care to maintain credibility.
6. Ask a question
Usually these questions are implied, but they don’t have to be in your story. You as the narrator should pose a powerful question by phrasing it as an interrogative statement. Readers don’t have the answer yet but you are forcing them to respond inquisitively.
7. 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 back.
There you have it, seven ways to keep your novel suspenseful. 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.