Friday, January 26, 2018

5 Tips for Creating Suspense in Your Story: A Guest Post by Aria E. Maher

Today I'm bringing in an expert on the topic of suspense: Aria E. Maher. She is the author of the most suspenseful book I have ever read: The Tangle. You may remember her from Episode 2 of #ChatWithIndieAuthor. She knows what's what when it comes to suspense (and writing in general), so stop what you're doing an listen up. She's going to give us a crash course on how to create suspense in our writing. 

Suspense: the thing that keeps you up at night to unholy hours flipping pages because you just have to know what happens next. What every writer wants to hear (besides, of course, that your book shattered the reader’s poor heart into ten thousand tiny pieces with ALL THE FEELS) is that they just couldn’t put the book down!

But how, you ask, do you get that suspense? Is it just chance, just luck? A lottery that some authors win and some don’t? A piece of knowledge that you can only gain by selling your soul to the Illuminati???

No, my friend. Not today! I’m here to offer you five solid tips for creating suspense in your story. Here we go!
5 Tips for Creating Suspense in Your Story: A Guest Post by Aria E. Maher
1. Let your readers in on the secret. There’s nothing more suspenseful than knowing a secret when the main character(s) are completely oblivious. For example, if your character is wandering around an abandoned castle, certain beyond a doubt that there’s no one else there, but the reader knows that there’s definitely a flesh-eating dragon loose in the castle, they’ll be glued to their seat to see what happens next and if your character survives!

2. Fear of the unknown. Alternatively, you could totally obscure what’s actually going on and have your character and your reader slowly uncover the truth throughout the duration of the story. Not knowing why something strange is happening will keep the reader flipping pages in the hopes of finding out the truth. But this only works if you as the author actually know what’s really going on, and aren’t just relying on vague or bizarre unexplained happenings to sustain the story. There’s nothing more annoying than getting to the end of an exciting, suspenseful book, only to find out that there are no real answers because it was all a dream. In other words, don’t try to write something suspenseful just for the sake of being suspenseful. Have a real story first!

3. The calm before the storm. An ominously quiet moment after it seems all the enemies have been defeated. A rest, a pause, a happy scene that lulls your reader into a false sense of security. A scene like this, carefully placed when the reader is expecting something terrible, can be perfect for building suspense. Let the tension build up until the reader is sure that, in fact, nothing is actually going to go wrong… and then destroy everything. The absolute perfect example of a scene like this, the one that made me think of this tip, is from a Bollywood action film called Mission: Kashmir. I won’t spoil anything, but if you ever watch the film, you’ll know exactly what scene I’m talking about. (And I would highly recommend this film, even if you’ve never seen a Bollywood movie before. It is quite violent, and you’ll have to watch with subtitles, but it is very, very good and has many amazing examples of well-done suspense.

4. Use the five senses. Don’t you forget about description and the five senses! Good description and sentence crafting is essential to writing suspense, as, of course, is the age-old ‘show, don’t tell’ mantra. You cannot create suspense by telling the reader that a situation is tense or suspenseful. You must create that uncertainty in their mind, or that dread. You must paint a world or a scene with words and sentences and paragraphs, and you must do it well. Your reader must be transported into that moment, feeling what the character is feeling. 
Only then can you create real suspense.

Bonus Word Crafting Tip: Great writing is all about using every tool at your disposal, whether it’s the length of the sentence or the choice of the words, in order to carefully craft an impactful paragraph, chapter, or, ultimately, story. Here’s a quick tip for using sentence length and description to build suspense. Suspension is all about building up to a climax, all about keeping the reader wondering what will happen next. Longer sentences and more detailed description can be used to create a slow buildup in a tense or suspenseful scene, and when the storm breaks, you can use short, choppy sentences and rapid-fire action/dialogue/etc. to differentiate and help change the pace.

5. Make people care. Like I said before, don’t try to write something suspenseful just for the sake of writing something suspenseful. There needs to be a good story, and good characters that people can care about. If your readers don’t care about your characters, they’re not going to care what happens to them, and any suspense you try to build will be defeated. So, write good characters and a good story first, and then find the places in the story that could use some tension and work on upping the suspense as much as you can. Remember: Suspense shouldn’t be the focus or the point of the story. Tell a good story first. The readers will be in more suspense, and more likely to keep flipping pages, if they actually care about your characters and story in the first place.

I hope that you find these tips helpful! Thank you so much for reading, and thanks so much to Hannah for letting me do a guest post on her blog.

Love Aria and her writing? Yep. I do, too. Be sure to follow her online at the following places: 

And, of course, you must read her books: 

But before you click all of those links to behold Aria's awesomeness, don't forget to leave your thoughts below! How do you like to create suspense in your stories? What is your biggest challenge in this area? Let us know by leaving a comment! And, of course, let's say a big thank you to Aria for providing us with these awesome tips! Thank you, Suspense Queen! 

Related articles: 
Using Context and Subtext to Raise the Stakes in Your Story: A Guest Post by Malcolm Tolman
Episode 2 of #ChatWithIndieAuthor: Aria E. Maher + eBook Giveaway of The Tangle

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  1. Awesome post, Aria! I especially love your last point- you can have all the pieces in place, but if the reader doesn't care, it doesn't matter.

    As I'm reaching the climax of my WIP, I'm trying to up the suspense. I love writing calm before the storm moments, but I don't wanna overindulge and make this whole section 'calm'. It's a balancing act :P

    Thanks for the tips, I'll keep them in mind :)

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