If this is your first time writing a horror story, you might be thinking about all the potential elements that would make a good horror story.
Depending on the plot, you could include some zombies, hideous monsters, loads of blood, and unexpected things jumping out from every other page. But – if we were to jot down one golden rule to follow while writing horror fiction, it would be to incorporate the fear of the unknown.
If you think about it – the fear of the unknown is one of the oldest and strongest fears; for instance, think about Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
Now, as an aspiring writer, you will want to maneuver this fear – not by revealing horrors – but – by leaving your readers hanging in between anticipation of the potential horrors in the story.
You might as well want to leave the illustrations to a professional horror illustrator who knows how to hook the readers with images.
Nonetheless, where does this take us? You guessed it right! We are referring to the element of suspense.
Why Incorporate Suspense in Your Writings?
Simply put – you will want to leave your readers in a state of suspense – from the very beginning of the book until the very end. As an aspiring horror genre writer, you might be an avid reader of mystery and suspense novels.
How many times have you picked up a novel and wondered which one of the guests could be the murderer? Or, you might have been sitting on the edge, biting your nails, and wondering what dark beings would be lurking inside the haunted mansion.
Suspense also exceeds the horror genre – it wouldn’t be wrong to state that the element of suspense is an essential aspect of all successful books. Readers keep turning from one page to the next, wondering whether the hero will reach in time to save the day.
Or – if they are reading a romantic novel, they might be wondering whether the couple will get together in the end. In a psycho-thriller, the readers wonder what the main character’s dark secret is that causes them tremendous pain.
You get the point – suspense keeps the readers hooked.
The underlying key to suspense is that it forms a question – or – several questions in the reader’s minds that they hope to get answers to. As a writer, it is your job to delay the answer(s) while maintaining the suspense and the reader’s interest in a way to keep them guessing.
Potential Techniques to Use to Induce Suspense in Your Writing
So, let us address the potential techniques that you can use as an aspiring author to induce suspense in your writing.
Here is what you can do.
Delimit the Perspective
Instead of incorporating an omniscient narrator who knows and narrates everything that happens, you will want to delimit the perspective and tell the story from the perspective of the characters. This way, the characters will start narrating the story by knowing just as little as the audience.
As the characters keep learning more, so will the audience.
Anyone who has read the classic novel “Dracula,” knows that the story is narrated through diary entries and letters with the characters narrating their experiences.
The characters also fear the unknown, and so does the audience who is experiencing the story through the limited perspective of the characters.
Incorporate Appropriate Style & Form
You can build suspense in your writing by acutely paying attention to not just the plot and the unraveling of things – but – also how you use words to convey the story. Of course, your story-telling pace matters too.
Dark and mysterious things are explored in “The Tell-Tale Heart,” written by Edgar Allen Poe. Anyone who has written “The Tell-Tale Heart” knows how the author narrates the unraveling of the narrator’s inner state by using fragmented sentences that tend to break off abruptly.
The short fragments of sentences create a sense of breathless speed mixed with heavy pauses. You get the point – you can use the right blend of style and form to create a sense of suspense and discomfort.
Choose an Appropriate Setting
Another technique to incorporate suspense in your writing is to choose the right imagery and setting. If you are writing a horror novel, nothing can go wrong with secret passageways, winding halls, old mansions, and an old dark countryside.
These various elements suggest that rather disturbing things are lurking within the setting. Natural elements, such as nighttime, storms, and fog – play roles in delimiting the character’s visibility and movements.
This aspect perfectly explains why the Victorian era is such a popular setting for horror movies and fiction books.
Nonetheless, even ordinary places and things can be made sinister. For instance, a doll can be described as cursed, or you can describe flowers in horror terms, such as “blood-red.”
Integrate Dramatic Irony
Understandably, you cannot just keep your readers in the darkness forever. Sometimes, you can serve the element of suspense by integrating dramatic irony. You will want to reveal the key parts of the dark secret to the audience – but – not the characters.
Here is what you will want to do: you will want to use dramatic irony in a way where the mystery becomes not what will happen – but – how and when the characters will learn about the truth.
A classic example of dramatic irony would be “Oedipus Rex,” where the main character is completely unaware that he indeed has killed his true father and married his biological mother. Due to the chorus’ comments, the audience knows the truth, and they watch Oedipus gradually learn the truth, which then leads the story to its agonizing climax.
Use the Cliffhanger
Some consider cliffhangers a cheap and easy trick to hook the reader’s interest; still, denying their effectiveness is challenging. You will only want to follow the golden rule of avoiding the overuse of cliffhangers.
A cliffhanger is a point where the chapter of your book ends right before something important is revealed to the readers. Or the chapter can also be cut off in the middle of a dangerous situation with a narrow chance of escape or hope.
The subsequent wait makes the readers imagine potential possibilities about what could happen next, which leads to an additional layer of suspense. Nonetheless, as a writer, you know that the expected awful incident is almost always averted, providing readers with a sense of catharsis or closure.