How To Create Suspense In Fiction by Leigh Michaels

To keep the readers’ attention through the long midsection of your book, you’ll need to continually develop the conflict and advance the plot in logical steps without making the story predictable. What keeps readers turning pages is suspense, which you can create using a variety of techniques, including tension, pacing and foreshadowing. The suspense we’re discussing here doesn't necessarily involve the characters being in peril; it’s created whenever there’s something the reader want......
Step 1

Keep the action intense

If significant amounts of time go by without suspenseful action—which is often most powerfully motivated by backstory—the story loses momentum and readers lose interest.

Step 2

Make the danger feel real

If the hero and heroine stop in the middle of a chase to share a passionate interlude while trusting dumb luck to keep them from being discovered, it’s going to be hard to convince readers that they have reason to be fearful. If readers are to believe the danger, then the characters must act as if they’re threatened. Even if the danger isn’t physical, keep pressure on the characters. Don’t stop for backstory; weave it in.

Step 3

Keep the emotion high

Even if the story doesn’t involve physical danger for the characters, their lifelong happiness is at stake. Keeping emotions at the core of the story reminds readers how important the situation is.

Step 4

Repeat an action, phrase or event

The first use of the action or line of dialogue may be almost casual, doing little more than getting the readers’ attention. The second use makes it clear that this bit of information is important (though readers may not quite see why) and foreshadows the important action to come. The third use is the most emphatic: The stakes have grown enormous since the backstory first laid the groundwork, and the readers, having been properly prepared, are on the edge of their seats waiting to see what will happen.

Step 5

Hide what characters are thinking

If the heroine assesses the hero’s clenched jaw and assumes he’s mad at her, and then you show him thinking about his aching molar, the heroine doesn’t know she’s wrong, but readers do—and all the suspense is gone from the scene. In this example from Claire Cross’ novel Double Trouble, we see the heroine drawing conclusions about the hero based on his backstory, but we have no idea whether or not she’s correct:

I never could figure out why he married my sister. Unless a wife and kids were necessary accessories for the lawyer-destined-for-Great-Things—and she was as good a choice as any. They never seemed to have much in common, but maybe it was something basic between them. Like lust. Marcia used to be quite a looker, and I say that with the undue modesty of an identical twin.

Tonight, James looked surprisingly haggard and annoyed for a man made of granite, and as I mentioned, that expression didn’t improve when he saw me.

“What the hell are you doing here?”

Oooh, a vulgarity. Of course, the strumpet sister had invaded the last bastion of propriety in the Free World. That, at least, conformed to our usual script. His job was to make sure I didn’t feel welcome enough to hang around too long and taint the precious boys. I knew my lines by heart.

Too bad I hadn’t worn something really skimpy, just to tick him off. I slouched harder, knowing that perfect posture was a household holy grail. “You should be more gracious to the one doing your dirty work.”

The man glowered at me. “What are you talking about?”

“Your kids called me from the pool when no one picked them up.”

James flicked a glance up the stairs, some parental part of him clearly reassured by the ruckus coming from the bathroom. “Where’s Marcia?”

“Where were you? Takes two for the fun part. Why should one be left with all the work after that?”

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