4 steps to create suspense

4 steps to Create Suspense

Hello everyone! In my previous post, I wrote about how you can create suspense in your story using the technique called “delaying revelation”. I do hope you have been experimenting and trying it out in the stories that you write!

Today, I’m writing about 4 steps to create suspense and dramatic tension in your story plot. This will work especially well with topics where there’s a secret plan, a prank or a surprise involved! I like to call this technique by its acronym – D.A.T.E.! You must be curious what D.A.T.E. stands for, so here’s what it represents:

D is for Dialogue

What the character in your story says to another character or even to himself, can often give the reader a clue about what will likely take place later on in the story. Dialogue, when used purposefully, can actually make the reader curious and entice him/her to want to read on to see what happens next.

To illustrate my point, let’s take a look at the following dialogue:

“I hope Tim won’t be there today,” Gary muttered under his breath as he made his way to the football field.

Who is Tim and why does Gary feel that way about him? I am sure that you will read on to find out the answers to these questions. Similarly, once a reader’s curiosity is piqued by the use of purposeful dialogue, he/she would want to continue reading the story.

A is for Action!

This is what the character in the story does and is always important because it paints a better picture of how and what the character is feeling at that moment in time. Many of us though, have the misconception that ‘Action’ means the character has to physically do something. This is not true. In writing, ‘Action’ also includes inaction. Feeling confused? Think about it.

Let’s say you are feeling terrified. You might do two things as a result of your fear:

1. You can scream and run away from whatever is frightening you. (Action)


2. You can stand rooted to the spot, frozen with fear. (Inaction)

Both of the above examples show how scared you actually are. The same goes for characters in your story. By describing what the character physically does (Action) or does not do (inaction) at the right moment in your story, you can get the reader of your story hooked to find out why the character in the story is feeling or behaving in a particular way.

T is for Thought

Many people place emphasis on dialogue in their writing without realising that what a character is thinking at a point in the story is just as important. Think of thoughts as inner dialogue! If the character in the story is feeling fear, excitement or happiness, adding what the character is thinking in a particular point in the story helps the reader share in the character’s emotions. This adds suspense and drama to the plot because the reader is drawn into the story to feel and expect what the character is expecting, thinking and experiencing!

E is for Exclamation!

This is usually something short that the character says or thinks to himself to show how surprised, excited or even upset he is so that the reader is expecting something to happen together with the character.

Let’s imagine that a character receives a surprise birthday gift:

I turned the small, beautifully-wrapped box over and over in my hand. Bringing it up close to my right ear, I gave it a gentle shake. Yes! Just as I thought. Chuckling, I hurriedly tore the wrapper.

See how a simple ‘Yes!’ in the paragraph reveals the character’s excitement at discovering what the gift was?

The question you might be asking at this point is, “How do I apply D.A.T.E. to enhance my writing?” To answer that, let’s take a look these two examples of a short paragraph. Which one do you think is more effective?

Example 1

4 steps to create suspense

Example 2

4 steps to create suspense

If you picked the second example, it’s easy to see why! The second example contains D.A.T.E. in action! If you found yourself feeling excited, anxious and impatient for Sarah to open the box, or if you found yourself so curious that you wanted to find out what was inside the box, it’s because D.A.T.E. has been used effectively.

The character’s dialogueactionsthoughts and exclamations help to create suspense and excitement because:

  1. It allows you to feel how the character is feeling. In the second example, you can feel the character’s anxiety, impatience and sense of expectancy. You want to read on because you want to know what’s in the box! Will it be a pleasant surprise or a nasty one?

  2. You know the character’s thoughts and you feel right there with the character. You begin to wonder with the character if Sarah was at home. You feel impatient. Like the character, you are also dying for Sarah to open the box!

  3. Just as the character is wondering if what he/she hopes for (the secret plan) will come true, so do you! You will read on simply because you want to find out what happens in the end, and that is basically what makes a good story.

In summary, adding Dialogue, Action, Thoughts and Exclamations can create suspense. It helps the reader get into the thoughts of the character and makes the reader curious to find out what will happen next. This is what sets apart an interesting story from a not so interesting one. A good story always has some suspense or dramatic tension built into it to tempt the reader to read on and to find out more.

The next time you want to write a story for topics where there’s a secret plan, a prank involved, or a topic that involves a surprise, try experimenting by using delayed revelation (see previous post) and/or D.A.T.E to capture that element of suspense and dramatic tension. Writing is a skill. Good writers are constantly experimenting with their own writing to see what works and what does not. You can do that too!

I always advise my students though, that an exam or a test is not a good place and time to experiment with techniques they are new at. However, they can always try it out at home and so can apply these 4 steps to create suspense in your story! Once you’ve mastered a particular technique, you’ll soon find yourself using it confidently in your writing! So, have fun trying our 4 steps to create suspense!

If you like what you have read or have tried some of these techniques out, do leave a comment and share your experience with me!

The Write Recipe.


Good writers plan. They think through what they want to write before they actually write.

Before writing a story, some good writers may write their plans down or draw a mind map.

It all starts with a plan. With a good plan, half the battle is won before you even start writing.


Ms. Elaine

I believe that language learning is not just about getting a good grade in school, it is empowering every child with the ability to express himself creatively and confidently. To me, the ability to use language to do just that is what makes us human. As a teacher, I always encourage every child I teach, to get out of his comfort zone in order to experiment with new writing techniques and to never be afraid of making mistakes because making mistakes often shows us how to do things even better!

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