Suspense in Mysteries

We generally associate suspense with thrillers. It’s the cliff-hanger format in thrillers that leaves the reader on edge as to what will happen next. However, a little suspense never hurt a good mystery.

What is Suspense

Here is how the dictionary defines suspense:

Suspense is a state or condition of mental uncertainty, usually accompanied by a degree of apprehension, anxiety or excitement about the outcome of certain actions and situations.

Aristotle in his book Poetics states that suspense is an important part of literature. It consists of having real danger looming and a ray of hope that the danger will be avoided.

Suspense Is Tension

Suspense is based on tension and this tension is felt by the reader. Tension is created when the reader knows something bad is about to happen in the story and they are powerless to do anything about it. Suspense is not hearing the first shoe drop but the uncertainty of not knowing when the second shoe will drop. For the reader it’s this inability to control the situation and the inability to know what the actual outcome will be that causes tension.

Suspense is Anxiety

Suspense is also created when the reader experiences anxiety. Anxiety is built upon fear; fear of the unknown, and the uneasiness created by this fear. On the positive side it results in the reader continuing to turn page after page and making statements like “I can’t put this book down.”  On the negative side it’s the possibility that something really awful is about to occur.

Suspense and Senses

We are creatures of our senses. We want to see, hear, touch, smell, taste and feel what is happening. When the character in the book says that it is so dark he can’t see his hand in front of him one of our sense has been removed. This creates suspense in fearing what may be beyond that hand.

When the character says he is straining to hear the sounds of creaking on the stairway outside his room or he is aware suddenly of the faint smell of perfume in an unoccupied room we become part of that character’s senses.  We find that we are straining to hear the next sound and we can almost smell that same fragrance. We rely on the characters to provide our senses with what they need so we become part of the story.

Suspense Builds

Suspense is about the conflict that keeps our hero from reaching his goal. As the mystery draws closer to the conclusion the detective and/or one of the main characters finds they are in more and more danger. And as the hero gets closer to his goal of solving the crime the suspense from the danger continues to build and build.  It builds until the final solution is reached and there is ultimately relief from the tension and anxiety.

A Little Suspense Never Hurt a Mystery

Suspense is that sense of worry that the writer creates for us about what may or may not happen within the story.

Suspense is an essential element to keep the plot moving forward and keep the reader turning the pages regardless of how late the hour.

Suspense may be associated with thrillers but a little suspense adds to a good mystery.


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