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What is Suspense?

Many genres utilize suspense to draw readers in and further the plot. But what exactly is it? The Writer's Encyclopedia has the answer.

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.

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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.

What is 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.

Writing the Thriller Novel

Do you want to write an enthralling thriller that your readers can't put down? In Writing Thrillers, a six-week workshop, you will get the tools you need to get your thriller project off the ground or take your current project to the next level. Examine the structural elements that create a successful thriller, learn how to build compelling conflict and suspense into your story, find out what helps a story engage a reader, and much more.

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