How to Create Suspense: Really Useful Links by Lucy O’Callaghan | Resources | Essential Guides | Links for Writers
Lucy O'Callaghan

Lucy O’Callaghan

This week is Murder One: the international crime writing festival in Dun Laoghaire so I thought I would do a column on creating suspense. As a writer we want our readers to be on the edge of their seats, unable to stop reading, telling themselves, just one more chapter. To achieve this, you must incorporate suspense into your writing.


A writer creates suspense through a controlled release of information to the readers that raises key questions and makes the readers eager, but often terrified to find out what happens. Masterclass shares 10 tips for amplifying suspense and tension. Finesse the point of view – use 3rd person omniscient if you want readers to see what’s coming before your main character. Or if you want to keep your readers in the dark, only finding out things when the hero does, use 1st person’s point of view, or 3rd person limited. Other tips are to end your chapters with a cliffhanger and invest in strong character development. Make your readers care about your hero but at the same time, ensure your villain’s motivation is credible. Layering in subplots can also add to the suspense. Creating a false sense of security and toying with readers’ expectations is another way to heighten the suspense in your story.


This article from Ian Irvine groups suspense creation tools into 4 categories: the viewpoint characters, the problems these characters face, the plot of the story, and the structure of the story. He breaks down each category with detailed information and guidelines to build suspense. If you have the time to spend reviewing your novel through these 4 categories then I highly recommend you read this article.


Suspense is a critical aspect of writing crime fiction. Now Novel outlines elements that can help increase suspense throughout your novel. You can create suspense via conflict both in a major conflict and in smaller ones. Using a tight timeframe is one of the best methods for building suspense but be sure to create contrasts. Your reader will need downtime to catch their breath. It can even lull them into a false sense of security. This article also suggests exploring other limits and constraints, using red herrings, and create atmosphere and mood with foreshadowing. Keep raising the stakes but always remember to play fair with your reader, and fulfil any promises that you make throughout the story.


Building apprehension in the minds of your readers is one of the most effective keys to engaging them. If you don’t drive the story forward by making readers worry about your main character, they won’t have a reason to keep reading. Worry equals suspense. Include more promises and less action. Suspense can happen in the stillness of your story, in the gaps between the action sequences, in the moments between the promise of something dreadful and its arrival. This article from Writer’s Digest shares 6 secrets to creating and sustaining suspense.


This article from Elizabeth Mitchell tells us that suspense is about heightened emotions. Do you want to have your reader breathless, stressed, intrigued, wondering what’s happening and what’s going to happen next? If you do, then you need to understand and utilise suspense. There are a few things that can make or break a scene. But in the world of suspense, they are paramount. They are setting, mood, character development, clues/red herrings, and conflict. Elizabeth delves into each category, sharing tips on each. She also shares prompts to challenge yourself.


This article provides a step-by-step guide to the ultimate suspenseful scene. Tips include putting your main character in perilous high stakes situations and introducing a credible bad guy and protagonist. Consider bringing in a shadowy puppet master and create puzzles and riddles for the reader to solve, and mess with your reader’s minds with red herrings. Setting your characters to always race against the clock can help to add suspense as can using flashbacks.



In this episode from the Well Storied podcast, they discuss how every story is a carefully woven tapestry of tensions. And while narrative tensions can vary in both nature and magnitude, every form of tension has the power to create dissonance that’s vital to a story’s success. It’s this dissonance, the divide between a character and an object of their desire, that will keep readers turning pages, eager to see how tensions will resolve. But not all threads of tension are created equal — and some are far too easy to snap. How can you ensure a deft hand as you weave a little necessary tension through the pages of your book?


Writing Excuses discusses the relationship between suspense and mystery, and for that matter horror, humour, and adventure. This cast is full of pithy quotes, useful advice, and anecdotal examples.

While suspense is a must for crime and mystery stories, it is also needed in most stories to hook and engage your reader. There are some tickets still available for Murder One check out for more information. It promises to be a great festival. I hope this week’s column has been useful to you. As always, if you have any topics you would like me to cover please get in touch.

(c) Lucy O’Callaghan

Instagram: lucy.ocallaghan.31.

Facebook: @LucyCOCallaghan

Twitter: @LucyCOCallaghan

About the author

Writing since she was a child, Lucy penned her first story with her father called Arthur’s Arm, at the ripe old age of eight. She has been writing ever since. Inspired by her father’s love of the written word and her mother’s encouragement through a constant supply of wonderful stationary, she wrote short stories for her young children, which they subsequently illustrated.
A self-confessed people watcher, stories that happen to real people have always fascinated her and this motivated her move to writing contemporary women’s fiction. Her writing has been described as pacy, human, moving and very real.
Lucy has been part of a local writing group for over ten years and has taken creative writing classes with Paul McVeigh, Jamie O’Connell and Curtis Brown Creative. She truly found her tribe when she joined Writer’s Ink in May 2020. Experienced in beta reading and critiquing, she is currently editing and polishing her debut novel.
Follow her on Instagram: lucy.ocallaghan.31. Facebook and Twitter: @LucyCOCallaghan

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