Use Suspense to Get Your Readers Engaged in Your Story

The element of suspense if something readers love. It may be heavy, and it can also be light, but when you add it into your story, your readers will keep reading until they get to the resolution. And is not that what you want?

But my biography, or my non-fiction book on train spotting does not need suspense, surely? Oh, yes it does. But more about that later.

Let's consider the two most usual types of suspense.

First there is the 'signpost' suspense. This is where something happens, or is said, or is described that hints at some exit, pleasant or unpleasant, in the future. Here is an example:

'I was shown into a dimly lit room. On one wall hung a painting. It was grimed with age, but I could make out the shapes of two people, a man and a woman. The man was holding a short sword in one hand, and as I looked, I felt a strange uneasiness creep over me. Why this was so I could not tell just then, but I wanted to leave that room and never come back. '

The reader will get the message that something about this painting forbodes ill for the future in the story. Notice the phrase 'just then', this tells the reader that later he or she did find out. It's a signpost, a hint of dark things to come. Your readers will keep reading to find out what it's all about.

Next there is the 'up to their eyes' suspense. The Indiana Jones stories, as well as many others, show the hero or heroine 'up to their eyes' in some desperate physical situation that is life threatening, or at the very least may seriously damage their health. Impossible car chases and underground paths filled with rats come to mind. If you want to keep your readers frantically turning pages you need to keep them in trouble situations through in order to build up the suspense.

Sometimes the suspense is a little less fraught with physical danger. For instance in a romance story you can keep your readers in a state of agitation which hangs on when the heroine is going to marry the rich squir or turn him down for the penniless farmers son.

What about the biography or non-fiction book? Believe it or not, the same applies to them. For example:

'When I was 17 I longed to join the Army and fight for my country. So I went down to the recruiting office, lied about my age, and got enlisted. If only I had known what this decision would have made to my life and to that of my parents, I would never have been so rash. '

You can see that readers will want to find out how this decision changed all those lives.

'One of the most serious forms of blight is orange spot. Many gardeners say it can not be cured but I'm going to let you into my own secret cure later in this chapter. '

It's a good idea to plan at what point the suspense occurs and at what point it is resolved. In all probability the object of suspense and it's resolution in a short story may be the reason for the story in the first place. In a book you may want to have a series of suspenseful situations through. Make sure these suspenseful episodes vary in intensity, though, as we do not want readers in a state of near apoplexy from cover to cover!