What keeps a reader turning pages in a mystery novel? Tension. A good mystery writer incites worry, stress, anxiety, pressure, apprehension and conjecture in the minds of h/er readers. These are the feelings mystery fans expect to experience when reading a gripping story. Tension is what readers want. Here are 8 ways to imbue your novel with tension:
1. Ignite the reader’s curiosity beginning on page one and continue to keep them questioning throughout the novel. How? By making statements that require further explanation, by creating problems that require solutions, and by foreshadowing crisis.
2. To enkindle anxiety in the reader, create a sympathetic character. Readers want good things to happen to an appealing character. You want your reader to continually worry and fret about bad things happening to the character so…put that character in major and minor jeopardy repeatedly throughout the book.
3. Be clear about what it is your protagonist wants. The thing the character wants can be something small, but he has to want it badly. Your job is to show how he attempts to achieve it, and then have someone or something throw obstacles in his way.
4. Build more tension by showing the characters inner responses and how those responses motivate his reactions to the obstacles.
5. Create several mini-conflicts that increase the protagonist’s problems.
6. Give your protagonist some successes, but immediately have him encounter greater obstacles. The obstacles should escalate to a final, breathtaking climax. Throughout the novel your reader needs to worry about whether the character will ever succeed.
7. Actions and reactions are the building blocks of a mystery plot. As each character creates an obstacle for the other, both the protagonist and the antagonist must escalate their reactions to them.
8. Pose questions either directly or by implication. These don’t have to be big questions. Keep in mind that the smaller questions keep the reader wondering and turning pages. The two big questions in a mystery are “whodunnit?” and “what will happen next?”
9. Don’t answer questions immediately. Stretch the solutions and increase reader curiosity/tension. However, the greater number of pages between when a question is posed and when it’s answered is important. Quick answers—small surprise. Answers that take many chapters to answer must have a big surprise.
In order for a reader to experience tension while reading a mystery novel, each chapter must have some level of crisis that creates conflict.
Read more post on the craft of writing:
4 Do’s and Don’ts of “Show, Don’t Tell.”
How Do Conflict and Crisis Differ in a Mystery Novel?
How Important is Conflict in a Mystery Story?
How to Create Minor Characters in Your Mystery Novel
Pacing: A Critical Element in the Mystery Novel
What is Literary Style?
What is Theme in Literature?
7 Murder Weapons That Will Challenge The Cleverest Sleuth
7 Characteristics of Today’s Modern Mystery Novels
Developing Characters is No Mystery
Author’s Voice: How to find it?