Authors Mark and Connor Sullivan are no strangers to utilizing suspense in their novels. Here, they share their top 8 tips for writers to do the same.GUEST COLUMNMAY 5, 2021
As storytellers, we believe it is the writer’s responsibility to keep the reader glued to the story and turning the page. Writers who can do this have long careers. We also believe that writing can be looked at as a trade, a craft that can be taught, practiced, and improved. Like all trades, there are specific tools and strategies in the craft of writing taut novels, including these eight that will add suspense to any piece of writing.
8 Ways to Add Suspense to your Novel
(Connor) Compelling Conflict
Writing compelling conflict is a crucial tool to add urgency to your novel. Analyze the conflict through the lens of stakes and goals at the scene, chapter, or even full story level, looking for those situations where the characters do not seem vital or active. One thing I like to always ask myself is, “What is the most painful thing that could possibly happen to my character at this point in time?” These burdens can be physical, emotional, or psychological. Then think of what the character needs to achieve or to change about themselves in order to alleviate that pain. This approach forces your characters into a crucible where action is the only choice. The action will reveal the character’s true self and so propel the story forward, which leads to my dad’s first tip.
(Mark) Write in an Active Voice
Examining and tweaking the voice through which you tell a story can radically increase its suspense. James Patterson taught me the value of writing as if you were in a bar telling the story to the person on the adjoining stool and focusing on the highlights. Stephen King says he knows if a writer is in control of a narrative within a couple of pages because he can hear the voice in his head driving the story and his interest forward.