“The oldest and strongest fear is the fear of the unknown” H.P Lovecraft. Writers harness this fear, not by revealing the horrors but by leaving the readers hanging, that is, in a state of suspense. Suspense is created in different kinds of genres with horror and mystery novels being more synonymous with this style. So, what techniques can you use to achieve this in your own writing?
Create a Hero
The audience will need a character that they will need to care about. Make your readers invest in the welfare of the protagonist such that they will be worried of the character is about to face trouble.
Create an Antagonist
For the protagonist to be in some kind of danger there has to be another character causing it. The antagonist’s character should be crafty and ambitious. You may not reveal the bad character at first but wait for the climax.
Get Inside the Characters
To elicit emotions in the audience, you need them to feel what the character is feeling like it is real. If you explain well what the character is feeling, the audience will live vicariously through the character.
You should Know Everything
As a writer, you should have everything figured out to the end. There will come a point at the end of the story that you will have to reveal what has been happening. At this moment you will want your audience to buy your idea and be impressed.
Limit the Point of View
Instead of writing from a narrator’s point of view, who can see and narrate all that is happening, write in the perspective of the character. The character at the start knows as little as what the audience know and as the story develops the reader unravels more together with the character.
Choose the Setting and Imagery Carefully
Old mansions and castles with winding holes and secret passages might suggest to the audience that something sinister is being conceived. Fog, storms, darkness have similar roles in limiting visibility and limiting the characters movement. Normal things can also be made sinister such as describing flowers as blood red.
Playing With Style and Form
You can pay attention to not what happens but how it is conveyed and apply it. This you can do by describing situations in fragmented sentences that end abruptly and break off suddenly. Make sentences that take off with breathless speeds and weighty pauses to create discomfort.
Use Dramatic Irony
You cannot keep your audience in the dark forever. Sometimes suspense is best served by revealing some of the key parts of the secret to the audience but not to the characters. In dramatic irony, the distress does not come from wondering what will happen but from the curiosity of how the characters will learn.
This is a very common trick and is considered a cheap shot but you cannot deny its effectiveness. The end of a season, episode or chapter is ended just when some crucial information is about to be revealed in the midst of a dangerous situation with a slim chance of hope. The wait whether years, months or days leave audience imagine possibilities of what could happen next.
Do Not Be Disgusting Just For the Sake
The audience gets bored when too much tragedy is happening. There should be specific times when trouble is bound to become. You should also not be serious all the time. Sometimes, light moments can culminate to great suspense.