I’m to the kind of reader, however, who avoids too much suspense–meaning, if it gets too scary, I’m outta there. Granted some readers love that kind of heightened suspense, but me, I like enough to keep me turning the pages without so much that I have to put the book down to take a breath. But, then again, I’m a chicken. I close my eyes during the scary parts of movies.
How do I keep the reader wanting to read more to reduce that fast heart beat and that fear for the characters or the situation? Recently I saw the play Wait Until Dark. Some of you may remember the movie, starring Audrey Hepburn. She played a blind woman, alone in her apartment and being staked and later attacked by very bad guys. There’s one terrifying scene in the movie where our heroine believes she’s killed her attacker, but suddenly he pops up, knife in hand and scares the life out of all of us viewers. That scene was eliminated in the play. Nonetheless, the play created a lot of suspense. Let’s look at how.
It’s important that the readers do not believe that the character created their own trouble. Trouble just happens to them. At first the character seems incapable to getting out of the bad situation. Sometimes more trouble happens. That intensifies the suspense. So you have likable character that did nothing terribly wrong but steps in a bad situation that gets worse. That creates suspense.
In Wait Until Dark this was the helpful friend who suddenly showed up to visit the protagonist’s husband. The character relied on him as she began doubting others around her. But the writer revealed this character’s culpability to the readers before the main character. So, we as readers panic. Oh, my God! He’s in on it, too. That’s more trouble for the main character.
If you main character does nothing to try and resolve the problem, except whine or scream, the reader will get frustrated and the suspense lessens. Instead, have your character try things. They don’t always work, but they seem believable and possible. Each failure heightens suspense.
When you read your next suspenseful novel or even true adventure story, ask yourself, what kept you reading. How did the author create enough suspense that you continued to turn the pages?
If you like a book full of suspense, try The Clock Strikes Midnight. Take a peek at this book trailer.