12 Ways to Create Suspense

Gail Carson Levine spoke at the 2010 SCBWI Conference and as part of her keynote speech she share these twelve tips on how to create suspense in your novel!

12 Ways to Create Suspense in Your Novel:

1. Time: Make the pressure loom by using a ticking clock device. There needs to be a destination in the future that is looming. Worried thoughts can also work to help emphasize the time.

2. Distance: Crate space between your character and his/her goal. A need to reach a far away destination creates suspense. Don’t worry obsessively; worries are a good way to end a chapter. You can also use chapter titles to create distance.

3. Thoughts: Make your characters worry, show us the tension through their thoughts.

4. Setting: A dangerous environment will create immediate tension in your book.

5. Separation: Make the main character physically separated from the problem, send them away. Then ask yourself what is the villain doing while the main character is away? What is the enemy doing? Seeing what the enemy is up to can create tension.

6. Isolation: Create a situation where there is danger around the main character but the he/she is also isolated. What will they do on their own?

7. Expectation: We all wonder if we can we live up to the expectations around us.  Build tension through what others expect of your main character. How do those expectations stress the character out? Self expectations can also be used as well.

8. A Test: Pop Quiz! Give your character some sort of test. This is an immediate tension producer. For example many of you at this conference may have a manuscript critique coming up. That’s tension you’re feeling!

9. Disaster: Create a disaster for your characters. This can be both small or large. There’s a tornado, or a character’s clothes fly off!

10. Main Character Flaw: Example – in Back to the Future the main character Marty can’t tolerate being called a coward. Now the reader will worry about when he will be called a coward and what he will do.

11. Secondary Character Flaw: Same as main character flaw. Reader and the main character will both be waiting to see what they will do.

12. Loss: Something is lost and the main character thinks it is necessary, the tension comes from the fact that they must get it back.

Gail Carson Levine is the author of seventeen books for children. After nine years of manuscript rejection, many writing classes, and enthusiastic membership in SCBWI, her first published book, Ella Enchanted, won a Newbery honor in 1998. She blogs about writing at www.gailcarsonlevine.blogspot.com.

9 thoughts on “12 Ways to Create Suspense

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