Use reversals to increase suspense in story

As your main character attempts to resolve the story’s central problem, he should suffer reversals. Reversals occur when the main character’s effort to solve the crisis actually worsens the situation so that the problem is more difficult to rectify.

A deepening of the problem rather than just a failed attempt to solve it equates to a more suspenseful story. That’s because the dramatic tension is ramped up rather than remaining flat.

There are a number of ways a reversal can occur:
 New information comes into play – The main character might resolve the problem he set out to fix but in doing so discovers that the actual problem is worse than first thought. This creates an opportunity to show that the main character has various talents and skill while at the same time allowing for the problem to become more critical.
• Main character realizes he has been deceived – As implementing his solution, the main character may realize that he has been deliberately thrown off track, as a sort of diversion from the real problem. This is particularly effective when the main character is up against the clock.
• Another character gives up on the main character – Perhaps the main character’s solution doesn’t sit morally well with a sidekick, who then refuses to help our hero. This isolates the main character, who needs the sidekick’s help or expertise to solve the central problem.
• Another character turns on the main character – Rather than just give up on the main character, the sidekick might even switch sides. He may try to stop himself or even share information with the villain, further decreasing the odds that the main character will succeed.
• Main character doubts values of solving problem – Sometimes the main character senses that the cost of implementing his solution will be too great. This is a good strategy to use when the main character’s solution is only partially effective, and he recognizes the true scale of what must be done to stop the villain. He then might then decide to sacrifice himself to stop the villain.

There are many, many other ways reversals occur, but these five are quite common. As reading novels, note how the author places the main character in a more dire situation with each passing scene of the rising action, and see if you can utilize the same reversal in your own writing.