What is Suspense?

Suspense is the element of both fiction and some nonfiction that makes the reader uncertain about the outcome. While most obvious in mystery stories such as those published in Ellery Queen”s Mystery Magazine or Alfred Hitchcock”s Mystery Magazine, suspense is present in all good fiction.

Suspense can be created through almost any element of a story, including the title, characters, plot, time restrictions and word choice. For example, if the plot involves the hero trying to reach an intended victim before a bomb is set to explode, the author has used time restriction as a suspense device.

Another means for creating suspense is to use the objective viewpoint in which the story is told, not through the mind and feelings of a major character, but only by what he says and does. That character may have some secret that affects the outcome of the story, but since the author never tells us what the character thinks—or remembers—but only what he says and does in the present, the viewpoint adds to the suspense.

The reader may also be tantalized as an impending event is gradually unfolded.

Just as readers will remain loyal to a writer who offers well-constructed, suspenseful plots, they are likely—as are editors—to reject one who resorts to trickery. A trick ending, for example, introduces a solution in the form of a character or a piece of information that has not been alluded to before.

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