Anatomy of a Scene

Writing Suspenseful Scenes

As we continue our exploration of using scenes to write our novels, let’s keep in mind that our scenes should be entertaining, dynamic, and purposeful. Your story will benefit from well-written scenes that keep the reader’s interest. Note that not each and every scene should be a suspense scene because the amount of suspense in each genre differs. If you become aware that your story is dragging, think about adding some suspense.

Certain elements will make your scene more suspenseful. The stakes must be high for your character. Increase the risk. Your character must be in trouble or get into trouble and have a hard time getting out. Add some danger. Add emotional intensity to your scene and don’t let up until the end. Your character should be under pressure to change or act by other characters, or by things that occur during the scene.

That said, don’t rush into the suspense. You will need to create a logical series of events which create the suspense. Let your reader see the intensity grow page by page so that the expectation of things to come increases the reader’s anxiety. The key word is anticipation. Let the reader be concerned for your character as you open the scene, and let the uneasy feeling grow as your character moves through the scene.

Think about the possibility of letting our antagonist get the upper hand over your protagonist and let your reader worry over your character. Let your character feel threatened and in danger and show your reader what that looks like, feels like, smells like, tastes like. Those sensory details are important to share with your reader. Make the danger tangible so your reader will have to white-knuckle it. And let your character react to the danger in an unexpected way so that there is even more conflict.

Make things complicated.

When you get to the end of a suspenseful scene, conclude the action and give your character a moment to reflect on what just happened. This will allow your reader to catch their breath before the next suspenseful scene.


Carry the suspense all the way through to the end of the scene and end it on a cliff hanger so that your reader must turn the page.

Mix it up. Worry your reader. Let anticipation rule the day. You will have happy readers. And that is a very good thing.


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