Holding Back Story Info Doesn’t Always Create Suspense

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Zoe’s book, Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days, is a fresh and innovative refocusing of your novel or novella. Through a few simple—and fun—steps, Zoe helps writers take their not-ready-for-publication and/or rejected manuscripts to a spit-polish finish. Writing is hard work, yes, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. —Eva Marie Everson, best-selling and multiple award-winning author, conference director, president of Word Weavers International, Inc.

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Writers of all genres want—and should—create suspense in their scenes. They want to create delicious questions in the reader’s mind that the reader can’t wait to learn the answers.

Unfortunately, writers often create confusion instead of suspense. I’ve observed this especially in new writers.

Case of Confusion

The opening paragraph:

On her first day of classes, Cassie joined other students outside the classroom. Several smiled at her and welcomed her. While the students carried on lively conversations, Cassie narrowed her eyes and stared at them. She gave mental huffs when students turned away from her. The other students glanced her way less and less during their conversations.

Cassie dodged students in the corridor on her way to her next class. No one understood her. Why did Dad have to move the family so often. Didn’t he know blending in was hard for her? If only he’d change jobs.

A redhead approached her outside her English class. “You’re in my biology class. How do you like Sampson High?”

“It’s okay for a deaf person.”

The writer decided to hold off revealing Cassie is deaf. She wanted to make the reader wonder why Cassie continually narrows her eyes, stares at other students, and becomes upset when people turn away from her. What happens, though, is the reader is thrown out of the story’s flow and tries to figure out why Cassie acts so weird—is unlikeable.

The writer could have given better clues, such as Cassie concentrates on students’ lips, but the writer doesn’t want the reader to guess Cassie is deaf. The writer wants to surprise the reader.

The writer has created confusion when it’s the writer’s job to ground the reader with the information the reader needs to get into the story as smoothly as possible.

So, What Is Suspense?


Trent receives a phone call. “Meet me behind the cafeteria. I’ve got somethin’ for you. You ain’t gonna like it, but if you’re gonna survive the school year, you’re gonna need it.”

This makes the reader ask the question, “What does the caller have for Trent that’s not good but he’ll need to survive? I want to know.”

What other questionable techniques confuse readers?

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American Christian Fiction Writers

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1 Comment

  1. Sally Jo Pitts

    Good advice, as always.

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