Authors advance their plots in a story, and keep readers interested, by creating suspense. Suspense is the sense of anticipation, or even worry, that the reader has for the characters as they encounter problems during the plot of the story.
An author builds suspense by having two teenagers enter an old, eerie house on Halloween night. The author adds to the suspense when the teenagers hear a strange creaking noise from upstairs in the house.
An author can build suspense through what they allow the readers to know. For example, an author can shift point of view from one character to another to keep the reader from knowing all of the details. One chapter is written from the point of view of the mother, who is worried about telling her daughter that she has a terminal illness. The next chapter is written from the point of view of the daughter who is excited to tell her mother that she is pregnant.
Examples from Literature and Film:
Many films and television shows create suspense by ending a movie, episode, or season of a show with a cliffhanger. For example, at the end of The Force Awakens, a Star Wars movie, Rey is seen holding out a light saber to an older Luke Skywalker. The movie ends with this cliffhanger, and the audience is in suspense until the next movie release.
In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare builds suspense by allowing the audience to know things that the characters don't. The audience knows that Juliet has faked her death, but Romeo does not know. The scene where he finds her in the tomb and plans to kill himself is suspenseful.
J.K. Rowling builds suspense in several of the Harry Potter books by having Harry and his friends unravel the details of Voldemort's evil plans a little at a time. For example, Harry often overhears parts of conversations or is allowed by Dumbledore to know just enough to be helpful, but the reader typically doesn't know the entire story until the end.
Literary Terms Examples