Techniques for Creating and Sustaining Suspense and Tension

  1. Create a plot that will naturally lend itself to conflict and tension.
  2. Make sure the first scene starts with a dead horse in the living room.
  3. But don’t lead off with too high a tension level. Build from one crisis to another. Give the reader breathing room.
  4. Make sure the action of the novel is tied to the emotions of the characters.
  5. Create tension between the h/h. Give them backgrounds that will make it hard for them to work together or perhaps to trust each other.
  6. Don’t use any scene simply for “character development.” The scene must serve the plot as well.
  7. Frame every scene in the context of the mystery.
  8. Knock off a secondary character, then bring the threat closer to the h/h.
  9. Use red herrings to create false leads.
  10. Misdirect the reader about the identity of the villain.
  11. Use foreshadowing to create tension.
  12. Use secondary viewpoint characters to create tension.
  13. Use the setting to your advantage.
  14. Give both main and secondary characters an urgent personal agenda. Make sure the villain has reasons for his actions.
  15. Support the main threat with a number of smaller threats that can be resolved.
  16. Try to end each chapter with a cliff hanger–either with danger, a plot crisis, or an emotional confrontation between the h/h.
  17. Keep the reader guessing about the outcome of each scene or episode. Make sure the book contains several surprises, although surprises must not come from “left field.”
  18. Include a ticking bomb or an urgent deadline.
  19. Make a secondary character’s motives unclear.
  20. Force the protagonist to attempt something that will be difficult or scary for him.
  21. Tie one hand behind the protagonist’s back.
  22. Cut off the h/h from all sources of help.
  23. Structure the plot so that there is more than one threat to the h/h. Bring these multiple threats together in the plot.
  24. Create a plot where there’s more at stake than simply the survival of the h/h.
  25. Raise the stakes to their highest level. Create a situation where any blunder means utter disaster