Six Ways to Add Suspense to a Story

May 2, 2011 | By Genre, Mystery, Pacing | 1 comment

You may not write suspense novels. You may not even write mystery or thriller novels, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to add suspense to a story. Any type of book can use the spice of a little, added suspense. And all stories need at least some deadlines and ticking time bombs.

There are a lot of ways to add suspense and tension to your works of fiction.

Here are six of my favorite ways to add suspense to a story.

  • Changing Point of View to add suspense to a story – Since many of my books have two major point of view characters, I tend to do this a lot. You are writing along in one character’s point of view and things are building, you and the reader know something big is coming…what do you do? You switch to another point of view, in my case usually to someone who is in an entirely different scene. Then you build again with that character until…OMG…what is going to happen? Another switch, of course?Mean?Maybe, but it will keep people reading.
  • Ticking Clock to add suspense to a story – This is probably the best known and most often used technique for increasing tension and suspense. Give your character a deadline. That bomb is going to explode in five minutes! Every second counts. (Note: your character’s story goal should have a bit of a ticking clock attached to it too. It should be urgent, not something that could happen next year, or the next lifetime.)Add Suspense to A Story writing
  • Cliffhangers at the ends of scenes and chapters to add suspense to a story – Always end your scenes and chapters at a disaster (or pending disaster) or a decision (an open question in the reader’s mind). Character A is hurtling along in an out of control car right toward a speeding train. Oops! Time for a scene change! Or maybe Character A has just been told she is pregnant, but her husband has been out of the country for six months. End chapter!
  • Moment-by-moment to add suspense to a story –With this technique you let the reader feel everything the point of view character is feeling. You crawl inside their head and skin. You feel their heartbeat or that tiny trickle of sweat down their spine. Write it all, then go back later and delete all but the most powerful.
  • Slow motion to add suspense to a story – You’ve seen this in movies…everyone around the character slows down. The character himself may describe it as if he is moving underwater. In slow-motion you describe everything the character sees, hears, smells, etc. (Use only once or twice and not for long hauls.) He hears the scritch of a mouse’s toenails over the concrete floor and the drip of the leaky faucet in the bathroom sink. He sees people walking past him and each step they take.
  • Combine slow-motion and moment-by-moment to add suspense to a story –  This will slow the pace in some ways, but can up the tension. Take a minute to describe your setting for example, but do it as your character, freaked out and ready to bolt, would see it. Or as she sees it, completely ignorant of the fact that the killer is standing behind that door–while the reader is fully aware of the threat waiting. Let us feel the coolness of the door handle as she touches the knob; then hear the whisper-soft movement of it gliding open…

So six ways to add suspense to a story. Have more? Have a favorite? Share!


Lori Devoti is the author of paranormal romance, urban fantasy and young adult fiction. Under the name Rae Davies, she writes the USA Today Bestselling Dusty Deals Mystery series. Check out her books at and Looking for help with your writing? Lori also does developmental editing and critiques for other authors and publishers. See our Editorial Services page for contact information and pricing. Or check out Lori’s classes at the Continuing Studies Department of the University of Wisconsin.

1 Comment

  1. Macy Eldritch



  1. The Author's Crystal Ball of Suspense: Foreshadowing - How To Write Shop - […] Need more? Check out Six Ways to Add Suspense to Your Story. […]