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Handy Tips to Help You Start Writing a Great Suspense Story

Tips to Help You Start Writing a Suspense Story
Suspense, at times, can mask the shortcomings, if any, in a plot. It is bound to make the story a nail-biting one.
Anup Patwardhan
Last Updated: Mar 2, 2018
Gray Matter
In books, as in real life, most of the characters cannot be classified as black and white. They should be written in the shades of gray. This will greatly help in developing a suspense story.
It has been some time since I read Masters of the Game by Sidney Sheldon for the first time (and yes, even I have re-read it many times since). On completing it, and other creations of his, I couldn't help but think of the writer himself being a true master of the game. The captivation was, without a doubt, due to the high content of nerve-wracking developments in them. It had made the stories riveting, and his novels a page-turner.

Invariably, each time I would end up wondering, how to write a suspense story. In the sections ahead are a few pointers that will come in handy to develop suspense story ideas.
Developing a Suspense Story
For a suspense story to be good, it must be inventive and intense. The bone of contention between the protagonist and antagonist is made clear towards the beginning of the story. The drama that unfolds must create and heighten tension for the readers. Maintain this tension in the story, without allowing it to drift from the central plot. Introduce cliffhangers at various instances.

Various scenarios in the plot and the story in itself can be presented through different characters and their view points. This will help the readers in getting a better idea of the story, and is bound to increase the emotional investment on their part. The writer will also be provided with an opportunity to present the point of view of the antagonist, and provide a backdrop to his character. The readers will be able to fathom the rivalry between the protagonist and the antagonist.

Tick Tock

Time can play a crucial role in the plot. A clock should work in favor of the antagonist and against the protagonist. This means that the character central to the story has to race against time. There must be brevity to overcome the challenges. This works out just well for the antagonist.


The stakes that are pivotal to the story must be crucially important. They need not be important on a global scale. They, however, must be important in the world of the protagonist. These can include things that are very dear to the protagonist or his/her loved ones.

Against All Odds

The odds that the hero/heroine has to surpass must seem insurmountable. The odds must go on increasing with time. Trouble must pile on the character, adding layers to the existing ones. There must be no breathers. He/she must have problems coming from all directions. These odds must be relevant to the story, else they would serve as a distraction from the real plot.

To Be or Not To Be

The protagonist must face dilemmas. He must be in situations in which he has to make a choice, not between what is important and what isn't, but between things that are important and more important. The central figure of the story must be in a lose-lose situation. These situations must test his morals. They must tease and tempt him to break his principles. There must be events that require time to take decisions; time, that the protagonist is short of. While making such choices, the antagonist, on the other hand, will have no hesitation or second thoughts.


Nothing ever goes absolutely according to plan, not even in fiction. Make both the concerned camps face situations where their plans fizzle out. Let them improvise, especially towards the climax of the story. This can be done by adding some elements in the plot that seem random. Decrease this randomness gradually. This can mostly be achieved through carefully considering various aspects in the lives of the several characters. Lead them to chaos. Let the circumstances in such scenes have some anarchy. This will help the story in sounding more real. The readers will be able to relate better to the story.

The Hero

A good suspense story must have a strong protagonist. He/she must have the determination to overcome the adversities thrown in their face. They must have an ability to think on their feet, and must be passionate about the things that matter the most. The character must be such that the reader must want to root for them. They must experience anxiety and fear for the protagonist's safety. The life or plans of the central character or someone pivotal in the character's life must be in jeopardy.

The Villain

The character of the negative lead must be a strong one. This character has as much importance in the story as the protagonist. So take as much efforts to develop this character. The villain must be smart and motivated. The character must be provided some backdrop in the story. It must invoke fear and negativity. Readers must find him to be a worthy opponent. A good suspense story is incomplete without a good villain in it.
Thrill, Mystery, and Suspense
Thrill, mystery, and suspense are very closely related and may all seem the same. Yet, on closer inspection, one can find distinct differences in these three genres.


Thrillers, for starters, are fast-paced. They have their focus on the action that takes place, and the pace at which it takes place. The protagonist and antagonist characters are marked and demarcated from the very beginning. There are no puzzles to be solved in a thriller. They showcase a gory picture, and this portrayal is meant to be scary for the readers, and invoke horror.


Mystery ideas and plots, on the other hand, are like a Rubik's cube that needs to be solved. The identity of the antagonist remains hidden to the very end. The protagonist follows the clues, following some incidence or what seems like an accident. This can lead to plans for another cataclysmic event in store. The story then revolves around the efforts to stop the event from happening, and revealing the identity of the person who set the ball rolling in first place. A mystery story can be paced well in flashbacks as well.


In case of a suspense story, the stakes are out in the open and clear from the very beginning. Readers can gauge what the destination of the story is, but not the journey that leads there. There are clear lines drawn between positive and negative characters. Progressive narration of the story suits better than flashbacks. Anticipation of action, rather than actual action, heightens the suspense aspect.
Allow the story to brew for the readers and slowly sink in them. Suspense is created by making promises of impending action to the reader. As a writer, one has to deliver on these promises, and some more. The tension in the story need not be limited to a particular scenario. Foreshadowing can take a writer long a way in creating tension.

Suspense in the narration builds with danger that approaches slowly, but definitely. The magnitude of devastation that this danger wreaks must be large-scale. There must be an escalation of problems all along the story, and they must culminate at the climax. The climax must, at the very least, match, if not supersede the suspense that the story had created.