Five Tips for Writing a Suspense Novel
The pops of an old house settling. The creak of a door. The haunting silence of being alone. These are some of my favorite sounds, so choosing to write suspense wasn’t a stretch for me when I decided to give penning a novel a go. Over the years, I’ve incorporated these five tips into my writing, and it’s helped build suspense in my work as well as spark new ideas and dig me out of plot holes.
- Watch suspenseful TV shows. Much can be learned from these techniques. Note when they cut to commercial and what was happening at that moment. Many times, they end on a cliffhanger, when a crucial piece of evidence has been found, or a twist has been revealed. Keep a reader turning pages by ending scene breaks and chapters in the same way. Suspenseful shows—and even movies—can help spark a plot idea, reveal a way to get unstuck in a particular chapter you might be eyeball-deep in, and help you develop your own unique characters by studying the hero and heroine onscreen.
- Read. Read. Voraciously devour suspense novels. Note what intrigues you and keeps you turning pages well into the night. What is the pace like? How do they keep this pace? Which characters jump off the page? Pinpoint the main characters’ goals, motivation, and conflict, then trace them throughout the novel to see how they develop (you can do this with movies and TV shows, too). And you don’t have to read only fiction. Read a true crime story, a crime or forensic manual, and news articles about criminals and criminal activity.
- Listen to music. I can remember being a little girl and playing a few of my dad’s vinyl sound tracks. One nearly scared me half to death, but I’d play it anyway with all its creepy music, and then I’d pretend to be a detective on a case, letting my imagination run wild. Typically, those nights I’d sleep downstairs in my brother’s room because I was too afraid to sleep upstairs! Now that I’m a grown-up (sort of), I still use this technique. Not everyone can write to music (I happen to love it) and that’s okay. Create a mood before writing. Compile a playlist using Spotify or Apple Music. Close your eyes and let your imagination run wild. Picture the next scene or chapter like a movie in your mind. Music lends to the imagination and aids in setting the tone. Instrumental is great, but music with lyrics can be even better. It never fails to amaze me how one short song can deliver a well-developed story. Listening to the lyrics can help paint fresh metaphors and descriptions in your own story.
- Take a class. Not long ago, I attended a Citizen’s Police Academy. Most cities (and small towns and counties) provide them for free. This was a thirteen-week class that covered all areas of law enforcement. I was able to learn about everything from dispatch to SWAT as well as gain some hands-on experience through shooting several guns and participating in a ride-along for eight hours. This was a great opportunity to acquire amazing contacts and resources and provide me with a chance to observe mannerisms and verbiage that I could incorporate in my books, which resulted in authenticity.
- Take naps. I said it. I meant it. In fact, I may use taking a nap in every piece of advice I give, whether in writing or life in general. Probably because I love naps about as much as I love breathing. But seriously. If you’re stuck somewhere in your book or you’ve written yourself into a corner, put the story aside and go lie down. On your couch. Outside in a chaise or a hammock—preferably when it’s sunny. If you’re picking up your kid in the car line, lay that seat back and close your eyes. Doze off. When I wake, I typically have a way to fix my problem. If I don’t, I’m at least recharged and my brain isn’t fuzzy from all that thinking. And I can honestly say that napping is part of my job and not an excuse to be lazy. Other than writers, who can say that? It’s a win-win.
Do you already practice any of these tips? Which ones work best? Which ones might be new that you’ll give a try?
Jessica R. Patch is the author of Fatal Reunion, Protective Duty, Concealed Identity, Final Verdict, and the Security Specialists series, which includes her newest release, Secret Service Setup. She lives in the Mid-South where she spends way too much time binge-watching Netflix when she’s not hanging with her family and collecting recipes to amazing dishes she’ll probably never cook. Sign up for her newsletter at www.jessicarpatch.com and stay “Patched In.”