How to Write Suspenseful Fiction

The Art of “What Happens Next” in Any Genre

Photo by Hans Eiskonen on Unsplash

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. If our main character is a policeman and a body is discovered in the woods on page one, then we expect a certain level of nail-biting suspense. That’s why you make your reader wait to find out the identity of the murderer, or the identity of the victim, or the motive for the crime — or maybe all three.

But even if you’re writing a quieter, more philosophical novel, the one question you cannot afford to ignore is, “What happens next?”

The reader must always want to know the answer to that question. Of course, if the writing is strong enough, some readers will be content to get lost in the beauty or the rhythm of the sentences. And if the characters are fascinating, the reader may be content, for a time, to read about what your protagonist had for breakfast or what she thinks of the pattern of rain on the car window. But that contentment is not likely to last, for most readers, if a strong element of story suspense is missing. Every novel must have narrative drive.

Click play to discover five ways to create suspense in your novel.

The Caffeinated Writer Writing and Publishing Podcast

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.

Visit Michelle Richmond’s author website.




Notes on novel writing, publishing, and the writing life from New York Times bestselling novelist Michelle Richmond. Write your novel in my Fiction Master Class:

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Michelle Richmond

Michelle Richmond

New York Times bestselling author of THE MARRIAGE PACT — I help writers complete their first novels at Books at

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