Sustaining Suspense in a Whodunit Mystery
“This suspense is terrible. I hope it will last.” – Oscar Wilde
No, no. Alfred Hitchcock, the master of suspense, was quick to point out that sudden explosions, bangs, or “boos” do not create suspense. It’s anticipating a catastrophe and waiting for it to happen that causes us to hang onto every word.
I love reading thrillers and appreciate the suspense created by such skilled specialists of the craft as Ken Follett or Robert Ludlum.
Follett has been quoted as saying, “For success, the author must make the reader care about the destiny of the principals, and sustain this anxiety, or suspense, for about 100,000 words.”
When writing a whodunit mystery, I discovered that I like to build suspense slowly and then let the air out with a bang in a life-threatening incident. I offer hints to the reader along the way that a dangerous event will happen, but do not reveal the exact dangers or culprits. I encourage the reader to eagerly start a new chapter to get to the next adventure.
Since I write mysteries and know my readers like to solve them along with my sleuth, I also provide clues to their solution. And, of course, I develop characters we care about. If it doesn’t matter to us what happens to our sleuth or her friends or family, then we won’t become involved and little that we write will yield suspense.