Suspense Definition & Meaning

What is suspense

Horrific suspense is when the reader knows something awful is going to happen, but the precise nature of it remains unclear — like waiting for a jump scare in a movie. As one might expect, it’s most common in horror and sometimes thriller novels. Instances of short-term suspense usually involve a discussion or confrontation between characters that’s quickly settled, though it may resurface later. For example, the initial flare of tension between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy at the first ball in Pride and Prejudice lays the groundwork for their continuing contentious relationship.

  1. They become engaged and Jane thinks little more of the events.
  2. For example, maybe one character sends a letter to another; the reader knows that the letter went astray and was never received, but the sender doesn’t know and thinks they’re being ignored.
  3. Long-term suspense can happen in any genre, and it’s what makes the reader want to find out how the story ends.
  4. It is an exquisite fantasy and suspense story in which readers discover these two star-crossed lovers.

An author may also use dramatic irony to create suspense in his work. Dramatic irony occurs when readers or audiences know something that characters do not. The readers know that Othello’s wife is not guilty, and that Iago has wicked intentions toward Othello. In his novel, Tarzan of the Apes, Edgar Rice Burroughs builds suspense through different verbal clues. Tarzan falls for a girl named Jane, who is carried away by a brutal gorilla.

Create suspense with foreshadowing

The murderer is not, of course, going to telephone Detective Superintendent Locke and turn himself in. Become a member today to discover how we can help you publish a beautiful book. The two of us had known each other for a very long time and I was determined that we were going to be civilised. I assumed that Charles would telephone Detective Superintendent Locke and turn himself in. Next we’ll look at some suspense examples in literature and ways you can enhance the suspense in your own writing.

What is suspense

While this may sound grossly counter-evolutionary, the success of haunted houses and horror movies suggests there may be some truth to this. And yet, it’s not fear that drives us to keep turning pages long after midnight, but suspense—the heart-pounding tension between one unexpected moment and another. If you’ve ever dreamed of writing a children’s book but aren’t sure where to start, check out this post to learn more about how you can create the perfect story for kids. Foreshadowing is a simple means of indicating something important, even if the reader doesn’t know why.

Some foreshadowing doesn’t become evident until the very end of a book, like the train accident early in Anna Karenina. However, other foreshadowing easily clarifies itself to the reader and helps them make an educated guess about the resolution. That way, when your readers finally do get their cake — the big reveal or resolution — they’ll be ready to gobble it up. You need to do the same thing with the suspense in your story. Build it up for as long as you can, teasing your audience with answers, making them hungry for more.

Definition of Suspense

This creates suspense for readers and members of the audience, encouraging them to continue reading and watching, as they are eager to know if Othello gets out of Iago’s trap or not. Having more than one arc of narrative suspense keeps the reader invested and gives the story added layers of depth. You can also accomplish these goals by using short-term suspense, which we’ll discuss in our next section.

What is suspense

As part of her duties, Viola (calling herself Cesario) must deliver messages of love to Olivia, whom the Duke loves. However, this plan backfires when Olivia instead falls for “Cesario” — who of course is Viola in disguise. Meanwhile Viola herself has fallen for the Duke, who has no idea she’s a woman and continues to pine for Olivia.

Create suspense with character flaws

That’s not to say mysterious and horrific suspense can’t be combined. A novel might contain elements of both, especially if it’s a murder mystery. And Then There Were None, for example, seamlessly intertwines mysterious and horrific suspense throughout its arc, making the reader question both “whodunnit? A cliffhanger might also be something like showing your character receive a polarizing job offer, but then moving the narrative away into a new scene before the reader finds out if the character accepted. All of these details create suspense that keeps your reader’s attention. Suspense happens when these dramatic questions trap the reader’s attention and makes them want to know what happens next.

Example #1: Tarzan of the Apes (by Edgar Rice Burroughs)

Twilight falls under the categories of suspense, romance, and horror. Bella falls in love with a mysterious and handsome boy, Edward Cullen. She learns that Edward is a vampire who, unlike other vampires, does not drink human blood, but that of animal. It is an exquisite fantasy and suspense story in which readers discover these two star-crossed lovers. Edward has a difficult time controlling the blood lust Bella arouses in him, because, after all, he is a vampire. Throughout the play, readers feel curious and worried, because they know that Iago is making a fool of Othello.

For instance, if your main character has a problem with addiction, the reader knows that they’ll be constantly on the precipice of succumbing to this weakness. Every time we watch your character come into direct or indirect contact with their vice, the reader will feel the suspense of them fighting against their desire to indulge. This technique only works if you’ve gotten readers to really care about your characters, so wait to deploy it until the end of your narrative.

While technically any literary suspense might be described as “narrative,” this refers to tension that builds throughout the entire story. In narrative suspense, you pose a question, problem, or mystery at the book’s beginning, divulge more about it as the plot progresses, and wrap it up near the climax or ending. Suspense ensures the interest of readers by putting them on the edges of their seats, waiting for what’s next. If an author does this well, suspense continues to increase gradually until the climax, or the turning point, and final confrontation is reached. Writers and authors use suspense to create empathy with their readers, by giving their characters internal struggles with which readers can identify.

The novel, Sharp Objects, is a chilling story of a Chicago-based journalist, Camille Preaker, who comes from a family with a dead sister, a troubled mother, and an irritable stepsister. The suspense starts when Camille’s boss asks her to go to her hometown in Missouri, to cover the story of a local girl who had been brutally murdered. As the story unravels, Camille discovers the real source of evil is close to her beloved home. Pathos is a literary device that uses language to evoke an emotional response, typically to connect readers with the characters in a story.

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