Tuesday, May 26, 2009

What Makes Suspense Different?

Suspense was not my first pick when I started writing fiction. Yes, most of my novels and stories at the time had suspense undertones, but they weren’t specifically suspense. At least, I didn’t think they were. The last novel I completed made me realize that my heart was drawn to creating suspense, even if I didn’t necessarily follow the formula.

What makes suspense different?

In a lot of novels, the focus is on the hero and the hero’s journey. Readers aren’t really concerned with other characters except for how they relate to the main character(s). In a suspense novel, we have the hero…and then the villain.

In a suspense novel, the villain is just as important to the story as the hero. Without it, the story becomes a mystery and takes on a completely different perspective. Here’s an excerpt from a Writer’s Digest article written by Simon Wood:

“The key difference is perspective. Both genres deal with a crisis event to hook the reader and keep the story going. But the storytelling approach is completely different.

Let’s say the crisis is the assassination of the president of the United States. In a mystery, the president would die in the first chapter, and the rest of the book would focus on the government agents charged with finding the killer and bringing him to justice. In a suspense story, an intercepted communiqué or a bungled weapons drop would take place in the first chapter, alerting the White House of an imminent presidential assassination threat. This time, the government agents would be charged with protecting the president while tracking down the would-be assassin. The story would climax at the point where the assassination attempt is thwarted. In a nutshell, suspense creates drama before the crisis event while mystery starts its thrill ride after the crisis event.”

The suspense writer has a unique problem to overcome. All the important facts in the story come out in the first couple of chapters. We know WHO the hero and villain are. We know WHAT both of their goals are (or at least an idea) and what is driving them. There’s little mystery left except for how the hero is going to stop the villain.

Now the suspense writer has to use their storytelling skills to create a host of problems, choices, and events to come between the hero and the goal of stopping the villain. Anything that can go wrong, should; the path is never easy, always winding, and hopefully not what the reader anticipates.

What stands out about the suspense genre to you?


  1. I like the part about a villain. I like that there is something tangible (well, not always) that the hero or heroine are fighting against. I like that suspense keeps you reading and sometimes keeps you guessing. That was a cool post! My stories have a bit of suspense in them as well as romance. I like those components best, though I still vacillate on what genre my novels are. Ugh :)

  2. Hi, CP! I LOVE your suspense blog--nice color scheme--fits in well with the suspense, you know? One of these days I'm gonna try my hand at a suspense novel--if I can get past my ooey-gooey romance writing! :D

    Write on!

  3. I write romantic suspense, so I get the suspense part of it. Although, I don't think I could write a story without the romance.

    By the way, I really liked your story on Katie's blog. Great job!

    Lynnette Labelle


  4. I think my newest WIP is leaning toward romantic suspense. We'll see how that goes as the story progresses.

    Lynnette--thanks for the compliment. I'm glad you enjoyed the story. :)

    Cathy--as you can see, you can definitely keep the romance in a suspense novel. I love a good romance!


Thank you for taking the time to leave your thoughts/opinions.