Kimmery Martin presented:
Ten Specific Strategies To Increase Suspense and Tension
1. Up The Stakes
Not only is the crazed fentanyl addict threatening to kill the ER doc, but he’ll only let her go if she exchanges places with her best friend. If she doesn’t, he’ll blow up the entire building. Analyze the tensest scenes to see how you can make them worse: what is the most agonizing moral choice the protagonist must make?
2. Add Complications and Obstacles
Now is the time for Murphy’s Law. What could possibly make this situation worse?
3.Take It Down A Notch
Whoa there, cowgirl. Every single scene cannot escalate. Your reader needs time to process all this mayhem, and you need to drag out the suspense, so it’s okay to juxtapose tense scenes with calmer moments.
4. Utilize Subplots
Incorporate smaller plot lines with their own mini-dramas and questions to answer. This keeps your reader engaged while waiting for the big payoff.
5. Use Plot Twists To Your Advantage
Midway through, it is revealed the doctor knows her attacker: it’s a former friend who came to her earlier with a pressing medical problem, but vanished before receiving his diagnosis.
6. Incorporate Tension On Both A Macro and Micro Level
Structure your paragraphs and even sentences to keep a reader engaged. The doctor knows her patient’s diagnosis is a death sentence, but she doesn’t reveal that in the first few words when they finally discuss it; instead she draws it out, talking about the work-up and the symptoms first.
Micro-tension also comes into play when there is disagreement between any two characters, concealed emotion or overt displays of uncomfortable emotion, power struggles, ego clashes, or unrealized small goals.
Pay attention to words you can cut and ways to tighten your sentences.
Incorporate omens, body language, scene descriptions, and behavior as tone. You can also use symbolic language to indicate something is going to happen or allow the characters and/or narrator to overtly tell the reader what is coming.
8. Structure The Ending Of Scenes and Chapters To Maximize Anticipation
End on a cliffhanger, or a big plot twist, or a sudden reversal of expectations.
9. Analyze Scenes For Tension Inducing Details
Can you change the setting to a more ominous or unpredictable place? What about the weather? Does the protagonist have a phobia? Did something bad happen in this spot before? What is the greater backdrop? War? A Cultural Shift? Religious Persecution?
10. Just When everything Seems Fine…
Give your hero a false sense of security and then blow it up. Have her come to the wrong conclusion or fall into a trap. (She thinks the hostage-taker is unconscious from the Xanax she crushed into his drink, but unbeknownst to her, he switched their cups…)