Halloween Writing Week Part 1 of 3: Creating Suspense

by Tegwyn Hughes, jaBlog! Blogger


The first thing that comes to mind when you think of anything to do with the horror genre is suspense. In film, this might mean that the music rises, the camera shakes, and the actor peers around a dark room. Easy, right? But suspense in literature relies far more on dangerous situations, withholding information, and giving the reader hope before ripping it away.

Create High Stakes Situations

The first step in creating a suspenseful scene is to up the stakes. The best way to do this is to putting the reader’s favourite character in immediate danger. They come home to find that the house has been ransacked, a window is broken, and footsteps pound upstairs. Maybe they have just gotten a phone call from an unknown number, warning them that they are about to meet their fate. No matter the scenario, the reader is immediately fearful for the livelihood of their beloved character. This creates suspense because your reader should immediately be on the edge of their seat, turning the pages fervently, thinking: what happens next?!

Don’t Tell Your Reader Everything

This is where the aspect of mystery enters your horror story. You may have introduced a cast of potential killers, or there is one person always lurking in the shadows and escaping, unrecognized, at the last second. Either way, your reader is hungry to know exactly who has been inflicting terror on your characters. Suspense is fostered by doing this because every time there is another horrific incident, the reader becomes so much more invested and nervous about the outcome of your mystery.

Give Just Enough Hope

When someone tells you who won your favourite reality TV show before you see it for yourself, that ruins it. The same rule applies to writing horror and creating suspense. If your characters are definitely going to die, definitely going to be caught in a ghost world forever, definitely going to meet their fate, it ruins the fun for both you and your readers.

Suspense relies on the fact that there always remains a slim sliver of hope for the victims in your story. A reader is going to be nervous when the girl sprints through the abandoned hospital, open doors and safety in sight, while the killer is hot at her heels. If you, as a reader, know for sure that the girl is going to get caught–she is cornered and gives up–you don’t even want to keep reading, because you know how it ends. The suspense is lost.


Check jaBlog! throughout the week for two more exciting posts about writing good horror stories. And Happy Halloween!


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