Finding Your Suspense by Deborah Lytton -- October Theme

Growing up, I was a Nancy Drew fan girl through and through.  I read and re-read the books just to experience that moment when I feared what might happen and yet had to read on anyway.  I chewed many fingernails in those moments (to my mother's dismay) but I also learned one of the most important lessons in story crafting--suspense.  Mildred Wirt Benson, who was the author of many of my favorite Nancy Drew mysteries (writing under the pen name of Carolyn Keene) layered suspense into every single page.  The art of creating suspense isn't just reserved to mystery authors.  We all need to balance sharing just enough to keep the reader connected but not so much that we give away our greatest reveals.  It's that suspense which drives the plot forward and begs the reader to turn the page.  Here are some of my suspense tools:

1.  Begin at the end.  I always know where I am going to finish (even if I have absolutely no idea how I will get there).  Working backwards helps in layering the small clues for the reader.  Clues make the story real, and ground the resolution in honesty. 

2.  Another thing that helps is being aware of the power of chapters.  Some of the best writers break the chapter at the exact moment of suspense, rather than resolving the excitement before turning to a new chapter.  This propels the reader forward organically. 

3.  Mixing points of view can add a great deal of suspense.  Switching back and forth between characters allows for a break in the action from the plot surrounding one character while moving to the other character's story.  In this way, the action never slows and the reader must continue to chase it.

For any Nancy Drew fan girls, share the title your favorite book in the series.  Mine would be The Hidden Staircase
Happy writing!


  1. THE SECRET OF SHADOW RANCH is among my favorites. The art of suspense is a skill worth pursuing. Thanks for that reminder Deborah.

  2. YES! The power of chapters. Short chapters that end in a way that makes the reader say, "Just one more..."


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