Skip to main content

Lee Child On How To Create Suspense

Lee Child, author of the uber-popular Jack Reacher series, says he firmly believes writers should write that they want to write: "Do what you want to do, not what you should do." And although he believes writing cannot be taught, he did share his thoughts about how to create suspense and what makes a great book.
  • Author:
  • Publish date:

Lee Child, author of the uber-popular Jack Reacher series, says he firmly believes writers should write that they want to write: "Do what you want to do, not what you should do." And although he believes writing cannot be taught, he did share his thoughts about how to create suspense and what makes a great book.

Lee Child at ThrillerFest 08

"All books are suspenseful, even the driest nonfiction," Child says. "It's about asking a question and making the reader wait until the end for the answer. It's like asking, 'how do you make your family hungry?' Well, you make them wait!

"The very act of asking a question makes people want to stick around and find out the answer. The power of asking a question is enormous."

He says that when authors are writing thriller and suspense novels, creating suspense, when you, the author already know the outcome, it feels banal, transparent and ridiculous. "But you have to do it," Child says. "You have to stick to it until the last page."

Child also says an author should always write the book he wants to write and never conform to formulaic writing. "All you can do is deliver a living, breathing book," he says. "If you produce a book you like that is organic, vital and the work of one mind, it will have a spark, it will have a heart to it, and other people will like it, too."

Lisa Jewell | Writer's Digest Interview Quote

The WD Interview: Lisa Jewell

The New York Times-bestselling British author discusses creating thrilling plot twists and developing characters in her 19th novel, The Night She Disappeared, in this interview from the Jan/Feb 2022 issue of Writer's Digest.

5 Tips for Successfully Pitching Literary Agents in Person (That Worked for Me at the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference)

5 Tips for Successfully Pitching Literary Agents in Person (That Worked for Me at the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference)

Author Anat Deracine found her agent at Writer’s Digest Annual Conference. Now she’s sharing what she’s learned to help other writers become authors. Here are her 5 tips for successfully pitching literary agents in person.

Tips for Reading Poetry in Front of an Audience

8 Tips for Reading Your Poetry in Front of an Audience

Poet's Market editor and published poet Robert Lee Brewer shares eight tips for reading your poetry in front of an audience.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Strength Lost

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Strength Lost

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, let a character lose their powers.

Sharon Short | Point of View Quote 1

Managing Point of View: Mythbusting

In the first of this three-part series, novelist and WD columnist Sharon Short breaks down 7 of the most common myths about choosing which POV is right for your story.

Channel Your Inner Authorpreneur for Your Writing Labor of Love

Channel Your Inner Authorpreneur for Your Writing Labor of Love

As self-publishing continues to become an attractive and popular options for writers, it’s important to know what you’re getting into and to have the right expectations. Here, author and entrepreneur Tom Vaughan shares how to channel your inner “authorpreneur” to help your book find its readers.

Mark Kurlansky: On Coincidences Driving Memoir

Mark Kurlansky: On Coincidences Driving Memoir

Award-winning author, playwright, and journalist Mark Kurlansky discusses the experience of channeling Ernest Hemingway in his new memoir, The Importance of Not Being Ernest.

In-Between: Writer's Digest 2nd Annual Personal Essay Awards Winner

In-Between: Writer's Digest 2nd Annual Personal Essay Awards Winner

Congratulations to Alyssa Rickert, Grand Prize winner of the 2nd Annual Writer's Digest Personal Essay Awards. Here's her winning essay, "In Between."

Things To Consider When Writing About Ghosts and the Supernatural in Fiction

Things To Consider When Writing About Ghosts and the Supernatural in Fiction

From maintaining subtlety to visiting haunted places, author J. Fremont shares everything to consider when writing about ghosts and the supernatural in fiction.