Carrie Cross’s Advice for Aspiring Writers #6: Create Suspense…


Whether you’re writing for children, middle grade, YA, or adults, you must create suspense to keep the reader turning the pages of your novel. Even if your genre isn’t mystery, thriller, or adventure, you can still use suspense to create drama. There are many techniques you can utilize. Here are two of my favorites:

Unexplained events: Leave the reader wondering and guessing

Introduce unexplained story elements. Lee Child has mastered this technique, and it is especially apparent in his fourth Jack Reacher novel, Running Blind.

“The killer’s victims have only one thing in common–all of them brought sexual harassment charges against their military superiors and all resigned from the army after winning their cases. The manner, if not the cause, of their deaths is gruesomely the same: they died in their own bathtubs, covered in gallons of camouflage paint, but they didn’t drown and they weren’t shot, strangled, poisoned, or attacked. Even the FBI forensic specialists can’t figure out why they seem to have gone willingly to their mysterious deaths.” ~ Amazon review

Child’s writing leaves the reader mystified. How could the killer drown women in green paint without spilling a single drop? Picture the struggle, and the ensuing mess. How could such immaculate killings be possible? This question keeps the reader intrigued, and eager for the next chapter.

For a Middle Grade read, consider this teaser from my second Skylar Robbins novel, The Mystery of the Hidden Jewels:

If I couldn’t go to Pacific Middle School with Dustin, Alexa, and all of my other friends, it will absolutely destroy me. Not to mention what it will do to my BFF. She’s carrying around a big, embarrassing secret. And I’m trying to help her keep it.

Oh-oh. What’s the big, embarrassing secret?

If the reader is invested in your characters, they will keep reading to find out what happens to them.

Use Cliffhangers

“A cliffhanger or cliffhanger ending is a plot device in fiction which features a main character in a precarious or difficult dilemma, or confronted with a shocking revelation at the end of an episode of serialized fiction.” (

Try to end each chapter with a cliffhanger: Put your protagonist in a dangerous situation. Maybe her embarrassing secret is about to be exposed. Or she is about to receive some terrible news. How will she react? Introduce a new, threatening character. How will your lead character handle an upcoming confrontation? Your readers should identify with your protagonist, and will want to find out what happens to him.

Consider this cliffhanger from the last page of chapter one from Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of the Hidden Jewels:

We got out of the car into the wind and rain and hurried toward the house. Crumbling stepping-stones led us through a lawn that was overgrown with knee-high weeds. Dead trees sported black branches that ended in grasping claws. As Victoria Knight fumbled with the key, I saw that the curtains were stained with something that looked like blood.

“Here we go,” she said, opening the tall front door. She let out a loud shriek and ducked.

Why did she scream? What flew out the door and made her duck?

If you end each chapter with a question that begs an answer, your readers will be eager to turn the page and find out what happens next.

Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of the Hidden Jewels is available on Amazon.

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