How to Write Suspenseful Fiction
The Art of “What Happens Next” in Any Genre
Suspense, simply stated, is the quality of the story that causes readers to wonder, “What happens next?” Whether you’re writing a literary novel or a genre novel or a novel that falls somewhere between the two (as most novels do), there’s no story without suspense. In this episode of The Caffeinated Writer Writing and Publishing Podcast, we discuss how to create suspense in any genre.
Naturally, the bar for suspense is higher in certain genres, such as crime novels or thrillers. When I wrote my most recent novel, The Wonder Test, the first in a series featuring FBI agent Lina Connerly, I knew the emotional foundation for the story was a mother navigating the grief and fallout from her husband’s death while trying to raise her teenaged son.
And this is key to remember: any story in any genre must have an emotional center, a reason to care about the characters. Because the progatonist of The Wonder Test is an FBI agent, there had to be a mystery front and center, a problem to solve — in this case, an unsettling pattern of disappearances of local high school students in an affluent California suburb. As Lina tries to get to the bottom of the disappearances, we also see her and her son together struggling to cope with the loss of their family’s anchor. When writing in a traditionally suspenseful genre, you need to find a way to strike that balance: allowing character to drive the plot, welding the speed of the genre with complex portrayals of character.
But even if you’re writing a quieter, more philosophical novel, the one question you cannot afford to ignore is, “What happens next?”
Click play below to discover five ways to create suspense in your novel.
If you want accountability, structure, and practical lessons to help you write your novel from start to finish in nine months, join me for my popular novel writing course, Novel in 9.
Michelle Richmond is the New York Times bestselling author of eight books of fiction, including most recently THE WONDER TEST and the Sunday Times bestseller THE MARRIAGE PACT. Her books have been published in 30 languages. She helps writers complete their first novels through the popular novel writing programs Novel in 9 and Novel in 5.
She also writes about travel and writing at The Wandering Writer.