Sometimes the best plotting in the world and wonderfully written characters aren’t enough to save a story so boring even readers who can’t not finish a novel consider putting it down.
That’s what can happen when your book lacks suspense, and if you’re afraid of this happening to you, here are some ideas that might help.
4 Ideas For Adding Suspense To Your Story
1) Add A Ticking Clock
Imagine a character who has to be at the airport on Tuesday at noon to catch a flight he can’t miss, and he gets there the right time, the right day, and boards the plane. Not exactly thrilling, is it?
Now imagine that same character waking up late, or being involved in a car accident on the way to the airport. Perhaps the train they need to take is late, and the bus, throwing their whole schedule off course and delivering a much more interesting read.
Suddenly a specific appointment has an air of excitement to it, and a deadline readers will want to find out wasn’t missed.
If your story is lacking some suspense, and the plot allows for it, give the MC a set date or time they need to be somewhere or to do something, and then throw every (realistic) thing you can at them to try and stop it.
2) Perfect Your Pacing
Of course, there’s a place on the shelf for slow burn novels that reveal their genius at the very end with a twist the reader never saw coming, but you’ve got to convince readers to get to the last page first!
If you think your pacing could use some excitement, mix up your chapter lengths, or jump into a succession of short, snappy scenes and barrel your readers through your story like a speeding train. Short scenes. Short sentences. Short chapters. They make the perfect pacing for a suspense-filled read and will definitely have your readers scrambling to get to the last page. The genius twist at the end, though, is still up to you to create.
3) Drop A Mystery
Even if your story isn’t a mystery, you can still add the elements—and some suspense!
Dropping clues throughout your MS that seem unrelated but suddenly come together at the end is a great example of mixing a little mystery into your plot.
Or you could ask various questions through the MS, adding more as each one gets answered, to keep the reader’s suspense level at an all-time high.
4) Reveal And Then Run
One of the biggest killers to a suspenseful read is not stopping the story once the excitement has reached its pinnacle.
Yes, have a proper ending that ties things up, but don’t waste all the suspense you built by dragging things out with ten more chapters or an epilogue that explains every little thing.
Reveal your ending or the twist your suspense was leading to and then run. If you’ve done your job right, the reader will be able to figure out what happened after without needing it spelled out in additional scenes—keeping your hard-earned suspense in-tact.
Are you a fan of suspenseful stories? What’s your favorite trick for pulling them off? Leave your tips in the comments. I’d love to hear them.
— K.M. Allan