What Is Suspense?

Here’s a transcription of the first video in my Writing Lite series, in advance of Top Suspense Group’s Hangout this Thursday, 20th February 2014. We’d love to have you join the hangout, btw, and you can do it by clicking here or on the link below.

Secrets to Writing Top Suspense

OK. Here’s the transcript:

Take one neighbor, tie their hands, get your gun…

Imagine this. You invite your neighbor for coffee. You don’t like him/her much. They’re kind of irritating, not really your type. But you start up a friendly conversation anyway. Nothing particularly revolutionary, elaborate or interesting. Just a pleasant, enjoyable chat. You’re being neighborly.

So far, so dull.

Now, I want you to get your roll of duct tape out of the kitchen drawer. You know, the one you keep for fixing stuff around the house? Come back and tie your neighbor’s hands and feet to the chair. Then I want you to take out your .38 revolver from your closet—the one you keep for emergencies—release the cylinder, put one bullet in the gun. Just ONE. Then close it up and spin the cylinder.

Now I want you to put the gun against your neighbor’s head. Nothing should change. You should still have that pleasant, inconsequential conversation. Except for this: Once a minute, every minute, pull the trigger.

I guarantee that conversation will be the most riveting, suspenseful conversation you and your neighbor will ever have.


Because suspense isn’t so much what is happening, but what might happen. It’s a situation in which the outcome is in doubt. Questions are asked that are not immediately answered. Threats are posed that aren’t being immediately resolved. Concerns are raised that are not immediately addressed.

Notice that the key word here is “immediately.” The longer you stretch, the longer you delay, the longer you parcel out information without providing answers, the more suspense there is.

(Next time I’ll transcribe the second in my series of twelve videos, which explores how to craft that all important first line and make it suspenseful.)

Click here to watch the video.