How to create suspense in your story

Conflict – the competition a character faces as attempting to achieve a goal – always is the core of a story. But a good story is more than just a fight between a hero and a villain or an inner monologue in which one struggles what to do. Good storytelling involves suspense, that tension in which the reader is uncertain how the conflict will be resolved.

One good way to create suspense is to hold back information. Rather than fill the text with exposition and backstory, instead keep the reader wondering how problems will be settled.

For example, have a character pose a question – and then don’t answer it:

“Why the long face? What’s bothering you, kiddo?”

She folded her arms, looked away. “Nothing. Nothing’s wrong.”

Of course, something is wrong. Suspense is created because there is a dynamic between the two characters; one wants to know the answer to a question yet the other doesn’t want to provide that answer.

Another option is to withhold details as characters interact with objects. So, don’t write:

He slipped a hand into a coat pocket, fingered the detonator.

But instead write:

He slipped a hand into a coat pocket, pressed the tip of his thumb against a sharp point in anticipation.

In the revision, the reader is left wondering what is in the coat pocket. Later in the story, reveal that it is a detonator. Further, only use this technique if the object actually plays a key role in the plot.


My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.