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How to Write a Good Suspense Story


The key to writing a successful suspense story is to make the reader wonder what will happen next -- and to make him eager to find out. Suspense stories are filled with drama and danger that trigger the reader's adrenaline and keep him on the edge of his seat. Creating that drama takes practice, skill and tight plotting.

Begin with an intriguing first chapter that hooks the reader into the story. Skip background data in favor of beginning with an action scene. Rather than explaining that the main character grew up in a wealthy family and attended a foreign finishing school, begin with, "Diana crouched behind a packing crate in the darkness, listening for any sound from her pursuer. Her years of training at a fine French finishing school had not included a course in running for your life."

Create a solid plot line that includes plenty of twists and turns. Suspense stories often emphasize that things are not always what they seem. For example, the honest policeman may turn out to be in on the plot, or the hero's mundane business office may actually be a front for an international money laundering scheme. Suspense stories repeatedly tease the reader by presenting a solution that is just within reach of the characters and then is suddenly torn away, forcing them to seek new options.

Create strong, believable characters. Write "good guys" that the reader can identify with and like. No one will care what happens next if he doesn't care about the character it is happening to. Write "bad guys" that are bad enough to make the reader worry about the safety of the good guys. Create minor characters that are entertaining and add depth to the story.

Create lots of conflict. The central characters in the story should be working to resolve one major conflict throughout the story. This may be an external conflict, like solving a kidnapping, or an internal conflict, like finding out why the heroine is having terrible nightmares about a fire. Introduce minor conflicts along the way to keep the story moving and the readers engaged.

Resolve the conflict in a satisfying way (unless you are intentionally planning a sequel). There are two distinct ways of ending a suspense story: the good guys win or the bad guys win. Both are acceptable in the suspense genre as long as there is a distinct victory.

Wrap up loose ends. Readers want to know how every aspect of the story was resolved. If you began a subplot in Chapter 3, don't drop it without a resolution in Chapter 6 and hope readers will forget. Wondering what ever happened to that chambermaid locked in the linen closet can annoy readers.

About the Author

Maggie Worth has more than 18 years of marketing and business management experience. She has conducted training classes in resume, fiction and web writing and has written textbooks, resumes, professional and technical documents, ad copy, video scripts and articles for lifestyle magazines. She is director of marketing communications strategy and special projects for a university.

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