In this week’s COW Writing Challenge, “Hallowe’en Howl,” students have an opportunity to write their very own suspenseful story on the theme of Hallowe’en.  As a writer building tension within a story and having your reader sit on the edge of their seat with each word  is very challenging.  So, how do writers create suspense in a story?

1.  Create a character your reacher cares about, and put them in a dangerous situation.  Early in the story, introduce a character that your audience can connect with.  Then, put them in a very dangerous, scary situation.

2.  Another way to create suspense is to write in the second person.  For example, “You walk up the narrow stairway, stumbling through the darkness.  You reach forward into the darkness, and your hand grasps something slimey and cold.”

3.  Lead your reader into thinking something terrible is going to happen, but approach that moment slowly.  If there’s a door that needs to be opened, have your character approach it slowly, then provide second by second details on the opening of the door.  “He reached toward the doorknob with a trembling hand and grabbed the ice-cold metal.  Slowly, he turned the doorknob to the right and heard a clunk.  The door inched open, as he felt a cool breeze on his face.”

4.  Show, don’t tell.  Instead of saying that your character is terrified, show your reader by telling them about their trembling hands, their wide-eyed look, the beads of sweat on their forehead, and other physical signs of terror.

5.  Have your readers know more than your characters do.  For example, if your readers know there is something very dangerous behind a door, have your character approach the door unknowingly.  As they open the door, your audience will cringe with anticipation of what will happen when the door opens, while your character remains blissfully ignorant of the dangers.

6.  Remember that violence is not suspense.  The anticipation of possible violence or danger is far more suspenseful than having a scene involving violence. 

7.  Think about what your reader might find suspenseful as you write each part of your story. For example, draw upon certain common human fears, like having a rat run across your back.  What other common human fears can you build into your story?

8.  Build suspense by having a countdown or a deadline which the main character faces.  Is there a ticking clock showing the countdown to something terrible?  Try to build tension during the countdown as the character gets closer to a deadline.

Building suspense in a story is very challenging for a writer.  Yet, there are few more engaging styles of writing than a suspenseful story which holds the reader to the edge of their seat down to the very last word.