Avoid inappropriate mystery to create suspense

One of the greatest temptations of novice writers is to include in their stories an enigma even though it doesn’t move the story forward. Authors who do this are guilty of committing the sin of an inappropriate mystery.

While using a mystery is a good technique to build tension, dramatic follow-up is expected. Readers otherwise will recognize the suspense as false and feel cheated.

Some common examples of an inappropriate mystery include:
• Character speaks opaquely – When a character is deliberately being coy or deliberately hiding some fact in dialogue, then what is meant needs to later be revealed and should be a key part of the plot’s development.
• Character goes “offstage” (out of the story) to do things – Should a character leave the story’s setting for another location, a reason should be given for their departure, if not at the time of the parting then in a scene that follows.
• A development in the plot is referred to indirectly – Any event a character experiences that affects the plot needs to be written rather then obliquely referred to. For example, when a character goes “offstage,” then his experience there needs to be shown onstage in a scene, unless it’s irrelevant to the story (such as going to sleep for the night).


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.