Nine Tricks for Building Suspense in a Plot
7. Nothing in life runs perfectly for anyone, especially for Rainsford when he has General Zaroff on his back. The General, who is the antagonist, makes nothing easy and straightforward for Rainsford, the protagonist. The hero shouldn’t be able to rely on anything going right for him, and any step forward should come at a price. The antagonist shouldn’t go unscathed, either.
In Newtonian physics, for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction. The sheer presence of the protagonist is going to gum up the antagonist’s plans, which means the antagonist is going to have to improvise. Both players will have to be quick-witted to deal with any and all upsets, especially as the story progresses toward its climax. Remember, the protagonist and antagonist don’t have to be the only monkey wrench in each other’s lives. Let outside forces be that, too. These characters might be locked in a do-or-die battle, but the rest of the world isn’t. Friends, neighbors, deliverymen and even public holidays can all be flies in the ointment. And don’t forget Mother Nature herself. A great illustration of this is the opening of Robert Crais’ Demolition Angel, where two bomb disposal experts are trying to defuse a bomb—and an earthquake occurs. Brilliant! Essentially, keep that storyline fluid. The reader might know what the story’s end game is, but this doesn’t mean they should know how it’s going to get there.
9. If the book has a great bad guy, then it’s going to need a great hero. This may be key to any story, but the suspense hero has to be someone the reader believes in and cares about. When the hero is in peril, the writer needs for the reader to hope that person will pull through.
Suspense writing is all about creating a pressure cooker with no relief valve. You have to keep turning up the heat using multiple burners. Employ these techniques and your reader will never come off the boil.