Writing Suspense in Fiction

Suspicion takes many forms and can be an important essential in your fiction writing. Don’t force your characters to be suspicious of someone without any foundation, though. Otherwise, your character will come across as paranoid.

The easiest way to add substance to your character’s feelings is by establishing the reason behind that suspicion. Justify those feelings with a key phrase from their past, an old memory that is brought up by a certain action or maybe someone has made contradictory statements to arouse your character’s suspicion.

Readers should feel the emotion as much as if they were the character themselves. To make in impact, be sure to avoid:

Victoria listened to the message on her boyfriend’s answering machine. She had suspected Jake and Mary were sneaking around with each other. She knew it all along.

Boring! Okay, she suspected. Okay, she was right. But did you feel anything? Where were the emotions behind her suspicions?

Another bad example you should stay away from:

Garrett saw the blonde woman walking toward him. Gentlemen prefer blondes. Hardly. He’d always been suspicious of golden haired females.

Garrett may have deep-seeded feelings about females but we’ll never know what they are. These sentences are constructed to talk at us not to us.

Now let’s take a look at successful models of suspicious writing.

This example from Mary Higgins Clark’s You Belong to Me touches on a man’s concern when one of his fellow shop owners doesn’t show up to open his store.

When Nat Small noted that Abdul Parki’s souvenir shop still hadn’t opened at noon on Wednesday, he became concerned…Nat, a wiry fifty-year-old with a narrow face, hooded eyes, and a troubled past, could smell trouble just as distinctly as anyone who got near him could smell the combination or stale cigars and liquor that was his personal scent.

From the police line of suspicion, we take a look at another good example from Ed McBain/Evan Hunter’s, Candyland. In this scene, the police are questioning a woman about some telephone calls made to her:

“Yes, I do,” she says and nods and smiles somewhat hesitantly, and then – surprisingly – blushes like a little girl. In her lifetime, Emma has questioned enough people to know when a person is concealing something. Morgan detects something here as well. He nods pleasantly, and smiles, and then says, “What’d you talk about Heather?”

Ready to add an extra dose of suspicion to your writing? Try this writing exercise:

Step in your character’s shoes by using the first person point of view. Describe his/her suspicions about men who wear ball caps. Why are they leery of men in ball caps? Do they react a certain way when they see someone in a ball cap?

Keep the feeling open for more conflict down the line. Remember, our suspicions aren’t easily dissolved…nor should our character’s be.

Please remain seated until the ride comes to a complete stop. Our Emotional Rollercoaster series may be over, but be sure to take another spin to master anger, love, revenge and suspicion.