How To Build Suspense In Your Novel

By on February 16, 2016

Building suspense in your novel is a great way to engage the reader, get them hooked on the story, and ensure that that they want to read on. Building dramatic tension, regardless of what your book is about, will keep your reader reading - but how do you do it?

It is important to remember that suspense is maintained by building up to an event, something the reader assumes will be terrible, yet not actually allowing that event to happen...yet. You need to heighten anticipation until it is almost too much to bear, and then just when the reader is on the edge of their seat, bring it to a dramatic climax or payoff.

Here are some top tips to ensure that you build suspense in your novel

Focus on sensations

A strange noise, a faint breeze on the back of your protagonists neck, the whiff of something unusual - by including plenty of sensory detail in your book you can create tension and a sense of foreboding. Give everyday objects clever descriptions and suddenly they become potentially dangerous and full of meaning. If you build up these sensory details little by little you will build up the tension in the scene.

2. Slow down

Slowing down time heightens suspense. Of course you do need to get the balance right. You cannot slow the action down so much that it becomes tedious to read. However, in specific scenes where a build up of tension is required, your characters movements should be slow, deliberate and careful. To slow down time make your sentences longer and more complex, allow the reader into the mindset of the character, whether they are feeling tense too, or have absolutely no idea what is about to happen - either way the dramatic tension will be exacerbated.

3. Use it sparingly

While it is important to evoke suspense in your novel, remember that if your whole book is tense and there is no break, your reader will lose interest. You need to keep advancing the plot or perhaps include humorous scenes for relief. Building tension should be done slowly and carefully, you don’t need to overdo it.

4. Use suspense to hint at what is to come

If you want to build up tension in your book, you can build a scene full of suspense early on, and then let it end without anything awful happening. This way you are hinting that perhaps your character got away lucky this time, but next time it might be a different story. So the second time they walk home alone, or go down to the beach at night, or go back to that abandoned cabin in the woods, the reader suspects that something dramatic will happen, and that anticipation will build the suspense even more.

5. Give the reader what they want

Make sure that after building the suspense in your novel that your reader gets what they have been  waiting for. You need to build to a dramatic, earth-shattering climax that really gets a reaction from the reader. Without this they will feel let down and cheated, so make sure you always have an end point in mind.

With these 5 tips you can start to think about how to build up suspense and dramatic tension in your novel, which is sure to have your readers hooked on your every word!

Bethany Cadman -contributor

Bethany Cadman -contributor

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