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Top Tips For Writing Suspense In Mystery Novels

By John Reese, Apr 9 2017 11:52AM

There are a number of essential techniques a mystery writer must master if they ever want to top a bestsellers list. They are entrenched in the genre and the expectations of its readers and none more so than the ability to deliver genuine suspense.

For new or fledgling mystery writers a lack of suspense is often the proverbial kiss of death that will see a novel plummet to the depths of obscurity but get it right and readers will come in their droves. It sounds simple enough to achieve. A few stock tricks of the trade. A cliff-hanger moment, a cleverly contrived twist in the story and of course the all-important reveal but in employing this approach on its own far too many writers end up delivering a formulaic plot that leaves much to be desired. Don’t get us wrong, every genre has an element of formula, it’s what distinguishes one genre from the other but look to the best ever mystery writers and the one thing they have in common is that they have all created great characters. Stock tricks of the trade are great and employed properly showcase a writer's understanding of their craft, but writing a novel is first and foremost about engaging a reader's imagination and central to achieving this is the development of great characters. To really stand out from the pack mystery writers need to create characters that their readers genuinely care about and for better or worse have the innate power to move them.

In our ever more liberal world where we have, to some degree, become increasingly desensitised to violence there is a propensity in mystery novels towards ever more gratuitous levels of it. It does, however, need to be proportionate to the character and their response in the face of it must be never preclude the reader from being able to place themselves in the same situation and imagine what they would do in the same set of circumstances In doing this an author creates characters that live and breathe on a page, that readers become invested in and more importantly fearful for. The suspense becomes real because the reader cares and this is where the magic of genuine suspense is to be found.

Of course, as with anything, it takes time to hone and perfect a craft but with our above thoughts in mind we have put together our top 3 tips to get you underway.

1: To make your protagonist feel real give them a personal demon to confront as their story evolves. It could be a phobia or a seismic event in their back story. The important thing is to foreshadow the moment your protagonist is forced to confront it. Do it right and you will have your readers braced on the edge of their seat,

2: With TIP 1 in mind never forget that in real life there are always many things beyond our control and it should be the same for your protagonist. Life is often unpredictable and we don’t always get the desired outcome. Threats can materialise where we least expect them and whenever we are faced with personal danger the stakes are invariably high with potentially life changing consequences. Above all though, you need to keep it real and within the realms of possibility. Stretch the limits of credibility too far and many readers will disengage. It is all about striking the right balance.

3: Life is rarely easy and it shouldn’t be for your protagonist. It is often the struggle that defines the reward and this is something you should always keep in mind. Just as bad news will always attract more interest it is the perils and obstacles your character faces that will ultimately hold a reader’s attention. Make things too easy and you not only pass on golden opportunities for character development you will lose that all important air of authenticity which readers crave.

Now forgive us for repeating ourselves but as with anything, crafting a potentially bestselling and truly suspenseful mystery takes a lot of practice and few authors get it right first time but one author who has made a great start to her career is P J Mann with her debut novel A tale Of A Rough Diamond. You can find our review HERE

As we always say, any view is subjective and what we always aim to do with our blog posts is to provide a point of reference upon which you can build. We hope we’ve given you something to reflect upon. Whatever your thoughts we are always open to comments and ideas and if you have a book you’d like to submit for review you can do so HERE

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