Create Suspense and Tension in Storytelling
While cooking a story, suspense and tension are two vital ingredients to add taste and flavour to the story keeping the readers engaged and eager to taste the entire plate and know what happens next.
And suspense and tension are most effective when they are balanced with moments of release or resolution as that allow the readers to catch their breath before the next surge of suspense, keeping them engaged throughout the story.
There are few ways and techniques which a storyteller normally adopts to create suspense and tension in his storytelling. He often uses the concept of foreshadowing through which he drops subtle hints or clues about future events to create a sense of anticipation.
This build up a s suspense by suggesting that something significant is about to occur without revealing the details.
He also uses cliffhangers by ending a chapter or scene at a crucial moment, leaving the reader hanging and craving resolution to generate suspense by creation of a sense of urgency in the mind of the reader to find out what happens next.
Introduction of a deadline or time limit for characters to achieve their goals create a sense of urgency and limited time creates tension in the mind of the readers compelling the readers to enter a tension zone wondering whether the characters will succeed in their race against the clock.
He also uses a narrator or point of view character who is not entirely trustworthy- for which the reader is left questioning the reliability of the information presented, thereby increasing suspense and tension while seeking the truth.
Introduction to false leads or misleading information diverts reader’s attention from the true outcome, and Red Herrings build up suspense keeping the reader guessing and uncertain about what will happen next.
The author keeps rising stakes by slow escalation of the consequences or risks involved for the characters and as the stakes get higher, tension builds because the reader becomes more invested in the outcome. Authors also pose intriguing questions or mysteries that are not immediately answered.
By leaving questions unanswered, you create suspense and keep readers engaged as they seek resolution.
They also help the readers in possessing knowledge that the characters do not which create a tension with readers anticipating the moment when the characters will discover the truth.
So let us dive deep into this fascinating world of creating tension and suspense in storytelling by looking at some of the most crucial aspects of story telling for tension building.
Crucial Aspects Needed for Tension Building
Building conflict is a crucial aspect of storytelling as it creates tension, engages the audience, and drives the narrative forward.
The conflict must be purposeful and should contribute to the overall narrative and not be excessive or gratuitous but serve to engage the audience and move the story forward.
There are quite a few effective techniques which are used for building conflict in storytelling. Introduction of clear goals for the author’s created characters that are important to them also helps.
They place significant obstacles in their path that prevent them from easily achieving those goals with greater the obstacle, the more intense the conflict.
The author might consider exploring the internal struggles and contradictions within the characters as this may can involve their desires, fears, values, or moral dilemmas.
Characters can be made more relatable by generating emotional depth through Internal conflicts. Authors may also show the clash of interests and the resulting tension in their interactions by bringing characters into conflict with one another arising from differences in values, personalities, or conflicting goals.
Introduction of external forces challenging the characters also help. These external forces can be physical threats, societal pressures, environmental disasters, or any other external factors that disrupt the characters’ lives and force them to act.
Authors often raise the stakes by escalating the potential consequences of failure subtly making it clear to the characters as well the readers that the outcome of the conflict is extremely important, and the failure may lead to devastating outcomes.
Imposing time deadlines help the author in adding urgency and intensifies the conflict and the characters may have to race against the clock, creating tension and heightening the stakes.
Presentation of the characters with difficult choices that force them to weigh their values and make challenging decisions may be considered by an author as introduction of moral conflicts helps in driving the narrative and thereby creating internal and interpersonal tension.
The author also provides the information to audience with information that the characters are unaware of thereby creating tension as the audience knows more than the characters, leading to anticipation and suspense.
Authors often illustrate the consequences of actions or decisions made by the characters allowing them to them experience both positive and negative outcomes and reinforcing the importance of their choices and actions.
The author should use conflict as an opportunity for characters to evolve and grow through the challenges they face, learning a valuable lessons, changing their perspectives and transforming in significant ways.
Plot twists are unexpected turns in a story challenging the reader’s anticipation and surprise them with a new direction or revelation and adding to excitement, suspense, and depth to the narrative by keeping the audience engaged and guessing.
The plot twists are most effective when they are well-executed, plausible within the story’s context enhancing the overall narrative.
At the end of the day, the plot twists should surprise and engage the audience without feeling forced or arbitrary. A character’s identity is revealed to be different from what the audience initially believed through Identity Twist.
Making a trusted ally or friend is revealed as a traitor or working against the protagonist’s interests is a good use of Betrayal Twist by creating emotional turmoil and raising questions about loyalty and trust. Time Twist take the story getting into a sudden shift in time, such as a flashback or flash-forward, thereby revealing crucial information about past events or future consequences.
This twist can reshape the audience’s understanding of the story’s timeline. The introduction of supernatural or paranormal elements like can include ghosts, magic, or otherworldly beings in a seemingly realistic story can completely change the audience’s perception with help of Supernatural Twists.
In case of Reverse Perspective Twists, the story is retold from a different character’s perspective thereby offering new insights and challenging the audience’s initial understanding of events by revealing hidden motivations, biases, or alternate interpretations.
For Misdirection Twist, they deliberately lead the audience to expect a particular outcome, but later surprises them with an entirely different resolution playing with the audience’s expectations and assumptions.
An unreliable narrator is a narrative commonly used in literature where the narrator’s credibility or truthfulness is questionable. This technique doesn’t allow reader to always trust the information presented by the narrator by adding adds an element of ambiguity and complexity to the story.
Unreliable narrators keep challenging the readers to question the authenticity of the narrative and analyze the motivations behind the narrator’s unreliability which most of the time lead to a deeper exploration of themes such as truth, perception, and the subjective nature of storytelling.
A good example is the narrator in Vladimir Nobokov’s “Lolita”- who distorts the events to justify his actions. An author often uses deliberate deception where the narrator intentionally manipulates the facts or outright lies to mislead the audience to create suspense, surprise endings, or to explore themes of deceit and manipulation.
Author sometimes compromises with the mental health of the narrator leading to a distorted perception of reality and for that the author use hallucination, suffering from delusions, or having memory gaps that affect their ability to accurately narrate events.
The narrator may lack access to crucial information due to limited access leading to an incomplete or biased account of the story. This limited access can arise from their social position, personal experiences, or a deliberate withholding of information.
The narrator’s recollection of events may be flawed, resulting in inconsistencies or contradictory statements due to unreliable memories which are influenced by emotions, trauma, or the passage of time, leading to a subjective and unreliable narrative.
The narrator may have personal bias and strong personal opinions, prejudices, or motivations that colour their perspective and lead to a skewed interpretation of events. This bias can manifest in selective reporting or the omission of crucial details.
Character secrets add depth and intrigue to a story by creating suspense and driving the plot forward. These secrets are used to create conflict, character development, and plot twists in the story and revealed gradually throughout the narrative, adding suspense and complexity to your characters’ arcs.
Author creates a Hidden Identity at times where the characters conceal their identity or past by assuming a new name or living under a false persona and their secret could be that they are a fugitive, an undercover agent, or royalty in hiding.
Betrayal of characters are also used where a character has betrayed someone close to them, such as a friend, family member, or organization. Their secret might be their involvement in a past event that caused harm or led to dire consequences.
Forbidden Romance are the secrets where two characters are engaged in a secret romantic relationship that are kept hidden due to societal expectations, personal circumstances, or rivalries and their secret love affair adds tension and risk to their interactions.
A character may carry a dark secret from their past like committing a crime or being responsible for a tragedy or having a traumatic event that they’ve kept hidden, and their secret could affect their behaviour and relationships with others.
A character may possess extraordinary abilities or powers that they keep hidden from others and their secret could involve magical talents, supernatural abilities, or advanced technology that sets them apart.
Harry Potter was a parseltongue hence could follow the language of snakes was kept secret from others. A character uncovers a long-held family secret that could change their perception of their own identity or alter the course of their life. It could involve a hidden inheritance, a long-lost sibling, or a family curse.
Sirius Black was godfather of Harry Potter was such a secret. A character is secretly working for an opposing faction or organization while pretending to be loyal to their current group and this secret could be the extent of their betrayal or their true intentions. Peter Pettigrew pretended as a friend of Harry Potter’s father but was working for Voldemort.
Time pressure in writing books is always a major for authors. There are many factors that determine the time to write a book, viz the length of the book, the complexity of the subject matter, the author’s writing speed, and the amount of research involved.
Time pressure for an author means they have a tight deadline to meet and that can be for several reasons viz. contractual obligations with publishers, upcoming events or promotional activities, or personal goals set by the author. Irrespective of cause, time pressure creates stress making writing process more challenging.
Each author’s writing process and preferences are unique, so it’s essential to find strategies that work best for him.
Planning and outlining, i.e., starting by creating a detailed outline of the book before diving into writing helps an author in managing deadline, as this helps to organize thoughts, structure the content, and ensure a smoother writing process.
Setting a writing schedule by establishing a consistent writing routine and allocating specific time slots for writing helps in creation of a sense of discipline and ensures regular progress.
Prioritizing tasks is very important and for that, breaking down the writing process into smaller tasks and prioritizing them based on their importance and deadlines help authors to focus on essential sections or chapters first.
Mood and atmosphere is extremely important for the productivity of quality work by an author. Minimizing distractions can be done by creating a conducive writing environment by eliminating distractions such as social media, excessive internet browsing, or interruptions from others.
If possible, the author may consider reaching out to trusted friends, family, or writing groups for support and accountability as they provide feedback, encouragement, and help keep the author to remain motivated during the writing process.
Time pressure itself is challenging and hence it is important to set realistic expectations. Hence, while producing a high-quality book within a short timeframe may require some compromises, it is important that the author strive to maintain the overall integrity of his work.
In case time constraints are severe or the writing process becomes overwhelming, author may consider seeking professional assistance, such as hiring an editor or a ghost-writer, to help meet the deadline without sacrificing quality.
Threats and danger
There are various threats, dangers, and misdirection that a writer may encounter. Being aware of these threats and challenges help writers navigate their careers more effectively.
Seeking support from writing communities, honing one’s skills through consistent practice, and maintaining a resilient mindset are vital for overcoming these obstacles and continuing to grow as a writer.
Writer’s Block is a common threat to a writer that can hinders a writer’s productivity and creativity. Writer’s block refers to the inability to produce new work or the feeling of being stuck in the writing process and primarily caused by a lack of inspiration, self-doubt, or external pressures.
Writers often face self-doubt regarding their abilities and the quality of their work and become overly critical of their writing leading to discouragement and a lack of confidence.
External criticism from readers, editors, or peers becomes the ‘straw to break the camel’s back’ affecting a writer’s motivation can also be challenging to handle.
Procrastination can also be a significant danger for writers getting distracted by other tasks or activities, leading to delays in writing projects.
Overcoming procrastination requires discipline and effective time management strategies. There is always a risk of rejection in submitting work to publishers, agents, or contests and receiving multiple rejections can be demoralizing leading to doubts about one’s talent or potential for success.
It is very important for writers to persevere, learn from feedback, and keep refining their craft. Plagiarism is a serious threat to writers involving usage of someone else’s work without proper attribution or permission.
It is important that the writers are vigilant about giving credit where it’s due and ensure their work is original. They should be aware of copyright laws to avoid infringing on others’ intellectual property. Writers often face distractions and misdirection from social media, the internet, or personal obligations and these distractions impede progress and disruption of the writing process.
Effective time management techniques, such as setting clear goals, creating a dedicated writing routine, and minimizing distractions help writers in staying focused. Writing can be mentally and emotionally demanding; hence writers may experience burnout from working long hours, facing tight deadlines, or dealing with creative and personal pressures.
For this, it is crucial to prioritize self-care, maintain a healthy work-life balance, and take breaks when needed to prevent burnout. Many writers face financial challenges particularly in the early stages of their careers.
The inconsistent income and the pressure to generate revenue from their writing can create stress and instability. Exploring diverse sources of income, such as freelance writing, teaching, or grants, can help mitigate this threat.
Key Things to Keep in Mind for Tension Building
Now that we know a few important aspects of tension building, we also need to understand and keep in mind a few important things that will help in creating suspense and tension.
If you are planning on creating tension then you should never underestimate the power of pathetic fallacy.
This is because if you can relate human emotions to the background with things like weather patterns then it is only going to improve the situation and highlight it.
This means if you can utilise the weather for the mood of the situation then it will help a lot in creating that suspenseful situation.
This means if you are creating a situation of mystery and something unexpected then you can utilise things like fog and gloominess.
If you are indicating at something dark and something that is not good for the characters then you can utilise darkness and a moonless night.
Humans definitely associate weather with emotions and we are able to connect that quite easily and that pathetic fallacy will go a long way.
Avoid Long Sentences
The thing about creating suspense is that the less you talk is the more you talk and it simply means that if you are a good author then you do not need a lot of sentences to create suspense.
In fact, if you are a bestselling author then you know that if you do not use a lot of sentences and words then it is only going to elevate to the situation of suspense.
You are trying to create mystery and anxiety and along with that things like fear of the unknown and that will be highlighted by the fact that you are not giving out a lot of information as the author.
If you start writing paragraphs when you only need a few words then paragraphs are never going to create that suspense that you actually want.
But instead of paragraphs if you simply put a few words at a time then it is not only going to work great but it will feel like you are withholding information in real-time and the reader is trying to extract information as fast as possible.
The key thing to understand here is emotion followed by information. If you can withhold information without pinching on the pipeline of emotion, you will have a successful tension building in your hands.
The Character’s POV
If you need to build attention then you need to keep in mind what we talked about in the last point about withholding information.
You can go a step for that and reveal information in a certain way. When a situation is unfolding, you do not just talk about the situation.
In that time of tension building, you do not simply explain the situation to your readers but you talk about it from the perspective of the character who experiences that situation.
You can talk about what the character is seeing and what the character is feeling and you can also talk about what is the next move of the character and what the character is thinking at that particular time.
This will make sure that the perfect level of tension is built simply because it will transport the reader directly into the shoes of the character.
The thing about situation building and suspense building is simply that you need to make people feel that situation rather than see that situation.
The best way to do it is to not directly talk about the situation but talk about it from the perspective of a different person who is actually feeling that situation.
Use Interruptions Wisely
When you are writing a suspense novel, you have the complete independence and licence to utilise as many interruptions as you want.
No one is going to stop you from using a hundred interruptions when you are trying to create tension during a situation.
But there is a fine line about tension building and it is that if you utilise too many interruptions then the readers will simply lose interest.
But if you can manage to balance out the interruptions with what is happening then it can result in a masterpiece.
If you want examples of this kind of interruptions and this kind of tension building then all you need to do is to bring out your old copy of Sherlock Holmes novels.
You do not need anything radical because Holmes is enough to help you understand what we are talking about. Or you can just bring out any acclaimed crime novel to understand the concept better.
Dialogue Over Narration
And finally, when you are trying to create suspense and when you want to build tension you do not need to explain the situation.
You do not need to explain to the readers the surroundings and what is actually happening and you do not need the best kind of narration.
This is because when we are talking about tension building, the crappiest dialogue is better than the best kind of narration.
This is because if you utilise dialogue then you do not need to think about withholding information because the dialogue between the characters is enough to withhold information and give out information in tiny chunks.
This sounds more difficult than it is and we definitely hope you will try out dialogues instead of narration the next time you are trying to build tension in a certain situation.
If you are someone who has managed to take in something valuable from this blog then we are going to be very glad.
We are going to be even more glad if you wish to utilise all the information in this blog and create your own suspense novel.
And if you decide to publish that novel then we are here for you because we are Orange Publishers and we are the fastest-growing and most popular legacy publishing company in India.
All our operations are in-house and we guarantee the simplicity and modernity of self-publishing along with the reliability of legacy publishing all under a single roof by some of the finest industry experts in publishing.
We welcome you to visit our website and check out everything we do.
Common Suspense in Storytelling FAQs
What creates suspense in storytelling?
Suspense is exactly what it is when the readers are not in complete control of the information in a particular situation.
In simpler terms, suspense is simply when the readers do not know what is happening and they do not have the slightest idea of what is happening and share the same uneasiness that characters are feeling at the moment.
If we have to break it down then suspense is simply a controlled and balanced flow of information and professional authors understand how much information to let out to keep the readers interested and yet not understand the entirety of what is happening.
What is the tension in storytelling?
Tension in storytelling can be a lot of things but it is simply when the characters are facing challenges. These challenges can simply be something that the character is not able to achieve.
It can be something that the character is not anticipating and it can be some kind of experience and situation that the character is not prepared for.
While suspense grows gradually throughout the plot but tension does not have a linear graph and it can fluctuate a lot.
What creates suspense interest and tension in a story?
If certain events lead to certain events which impact the plot and the present situation of the characters and impact the future of the characters then that is exactly what we call suspense interest in tension.
When we are talking about suspense building in storytelling, you as the author simply need to understand how much information to give out and how much information to withhold.
This is because if you give up too much information then you will destroy the suspense but if you give out too little information then you will destroy the interest of the readers.
What is tension and suspense?
If we have to explain it with something else in the material world then tension is going to be equivalent to weather, subject to short-term changes and suspense is going to be the climate.
This is because tension is simply something that the character feels at a particular time and the amplitude of tension can change.
But suspense is something that slowly and surely builds up over a macro area of time in storytelling.