Writing Fiction: Build Your Novel’s Suspense And Write A Page-Turner

When you’re writing fiction, suspense is vital, no matter the genre. When readers can’t turn the pages fast enough, you’ll build readers and fans for your books.

Recently a writing student asked about a quick way to build suspense.

That’s an excellent question, because when you’re writing fiction creating suspense always needs to be in the back of your mind.

Lately I’ve been rereading Anthony Trollope. He’s a master of suspense. I’d forgotten that. You’d think that the long-ago politics of his Palliser novels needn’t concern us a century and a half later, but they’re still relevant. And we’re still rapidly turning pages to discover the fate of Lizzie Eustace and Glencora’s children.

So, what’s the quickest way to build suspense in your fiction?

Writing fiction and suspense: what’s the quickest way to build suspense?

Here it is in two words: stop explaining.

New authors always want to explain; that kills suspense.

From Writing Fiction: 4 Tips To Build Narrative Drive (Suspense):

Remember curiosity and anxiety.

Resist explanations—they ruin your fiction.

If you think you need backstory… you’re wrong. Readers just want to know what happens next.

Suspense, explanations and your first draft: maintain the fictive dream

That said, it’s difficult to resist explanations in your first draft, because in a first draft, you don’t know the story. You’re telling your story to yourself.

When I’m mentoring students, I suggest writing your first draft from go to whoa. If you try to think logically, you’ll either block, or you’ll write a dull book: you’ve lost your inspiration, because you’re thinking. Logic kills inspiration.

First, tell the story. Then you can eliminate explanations and build suspense in your next draft. When I reread portions of a current novel before each day’s writing, I mark explanations with “!!!” But I stop myself thinking about them.

It’s essential not to think too much in your first draft. Your goal must be to maintain John Gardner’s fictive dream:

“In the writing state—the state of inspiration—the fictive dream springs up fully alive: the writer forgets the words he has written on the page and sees, instead, his characters moving around their rooms, hunting through cupboards, glancing irritably through their mail, setting mousetraps, loading pistols.”

Also essential for suspense: make your characters WANT something

When your character wants something badly, the reader’s in suspense. Will the character get what he wants?

From Short Fiction: 3 Tips To Help You Create Characters Readers Adore:

Readers love characters who go all-out to get what they want. These characters are motivated. This makes for conflict, and excitement. Creating characters who WANT desperately is a plotting short-cut. Scarlett O’Hara, Becky Sharp, and Tom Ripley all want something desperately. Becky and Tom will do anything to get out of poverty. Scarlett wants that too eventually. However, for most of Gone With The Wind, she wants Ashley Wilkes.

Here’s the big difference between real life and life in fiction: in fiction, characters want what they want—they refuse to admit defeat. So, for real suspense, your main character must want something desperately.

I’ve found Debra Dixon’s simple chart from GMC: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict useful:

Who = character

What = goal

Why = motivation

Why not = conflict

When a character wants something badly and is motivated to get it, the reader wants him to get it too. He keeps turning the pages.

Ready to edit? Do a “suspense check” before you begin

As we’ve said, when you’re writing fiction, you can destroy your inspiration if you try to think too logically while you’re writing your first draft.

When it’s time to edit, write “suspense!” on a sticky note where you can see it. Then check for suspense when you’re reading through what you have before you start editing.

Enjoy the editing process; you’ll discover that creating suspense for your readers is HUGE fun.

Map It: For Writing Success — Fiction And Nonfiction Outlines Made Easy

Map It: For Writing Success — Fiction And Nonfiction Outlines Made Easy

eBook: $5.99

If you think you can't outline, you're wrong. You can create wonderful outlines which work for you: write more, and publish more.


More info →
Plot Hot-Selling Fiction The Easy Way: How To Write  Novels And Short Stories Readers Love

Plot Hot-Selling Fiction The Easy Way: How To Write Novels And Short Stories Readers Love

eBook: $5.99

This plotting system works for my students, and it it will work for you. It's the easiest, fastest, and most fun plotting method ever. You can use it for all your fiction, whether you're writing short stories, novellas or novels. Take control of your fiction now, and publish more, more easily.


More info →
Planning And Writing A Hot-Selling Series: Selling Writer Strategies

Planning And Writing A Hot-Selling Series: Selling Writer Strategies

eBook: $4.99

Try writing in series. Your audience loves to binge on entertainment, whether it's a series on a streaming service, or a series of books. Marketing series fiction and nonfiction is much easier than marketing standalone books.




More info →
Plan, Write, And Publish Serial Fiction In Four Weeks

Plan, Write, And Publish Serial Fiction In Four Weeks

eBook: $5.99

If you've heard that authors are successfully publishing their fiction as serials, and are curious about how it's done, read on. Readers enjoy serial fiction today, as they've done for centuries.

This practical guide helps you to start writing serial fiction, starting today.


More info →