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Author: Ben Parker
Effective tips on how to create suspense in a mystery story
Mystery stories are aimed at creating wonder that is the basis of our human desire to understand what is going on and why. If you are an aspiring mystery writer, it`s very important for you to write this kind of story the way no one else has. You should maximally enjoy the very writing process and get the pleasure from reading your own drafts. But you don`t have the right to forget about some basic mystery writing rules. Here they are:
Keep a character`s true identity secret
If you are a mystery author, you definitely don`t want your readers to figure out who some of the characters truly are until late in the story. You have to remember one simple trick that will help you hide your baddies easily. You should just take what your readers might expect and assume about characters, and then turn that upside down. They will be undoubtedly surprised to find out that one of the heroes of the book has been secretly working for the dark side all long. Take a famous Shakespeare`s tragedy “Macbeth” for example. A classic hero Macbeth turns into a true murderer as soon as he thinks he is destined to become a great king. Let your villains be completely harmless, handsome, charming or even foolish at the beginning of the story.
Lead your readers towards a deadlock
The best way to confuse your readers is to use a “red herring” plot device which is often featured in suspense genres. It is a false clue that can easily send readers off in directions that do not lead them to the correct conclusions. However, it is very important to remember that a good red herring should emerge from the plot naturally. These strategies can help you create it in a proper way:
- Put an innocent character at the scene of the crime
- Give some events misleading significance
- Have the sleuth follow a trail of clues that leads to the wrong character
- Give an innocent character a strong motive for committing a crime
Use suspenseful scene and sentence construction
The proper use of language is the key to creating a mystery story. The first thing you should do is to use the adverbial clauses of time to make actions seem more suspenseful. Pay attention to the length of your sentences. Make sure that the rhythm of the words isn`t dully repetitive. Delay major revelations for final paragraphs. Grab your audience`s interest by using the suspense-generating time-limitations. Add some new factors to the plot that give some of the characters new problems to deal with. And the last rule: engage readers` curiosity by hinting at future events.
Inject your dialogues with suspense and tension
It would be a good idea to take advantage of your scenes with dialogues in order to allow the necessary information to trickle out during the conversation. You should put yourself in your character`s place and keep his or her motive in mind if you want to make these dialogues realistic and suspenseful. Use these simple techniques to create the effect of the suspense in the dialogues:
- Answer a question with a question
- Do not answer what happened, but say why it happened
- Let two or three dialogue passages go by before answering an earlier question
- Interrupt the speaker
- Mimic the speaker
Trust in your readers` imagination and patience
Delay the explanations of the significance of some odd or unusual actions from time to time. You should always remember that mystery is central to human thinking. That`s why you should make your readers wonder what happened and why. Let them interpret some of the events on their own.
The bottom line
If you are a first-time mystery writer, you should definitely reflect on the statements made by Mackey Spillane who was an American crime novelist: “Nobody reads a mystery to get to the middle. They read it to get to the end. If it`s a letdown, they won`t buy anyone. The first page sells that book. The last page sells your next book”.