7 Tips on Writing Great Mystery and Suspense Novels

7 Tips on Writing Great Mystery and Suspense Novels


1. The number one rule of suspense is to give your reader information.

You can’t expect a reader to have anxieties if they have nothing to be anxious about. If you tell the reader that there’s a bomb in the room and that it’s going to go off in five minutes, that’s suspense. The suspense in Ghost Maven is what will happen when Alice finds out that Henry is a ghost? The suspense drives the narrative and keeps your reader interested.

2. Use counterpoint and contrast.

“Suspense doesn’t have any value unless it’s balanced by humor,” said Hitchcock, who was famous for his macabre sense of humor in films like The Trouble With Harry. In Frenzy, Hitchcock liked the extremes between comedy and horror, and used humor to great effect between the Chief Inspector and his wife. ‘I invented the Chief Inspector’s wife so as to permit myself to place most of the discussion of the crime outside a professional context,’ said Hitchcock. “And I get comedy to sugar-coat the discussions by making the wife a gourmet cook. So this inspector comes home every night to discussion of the murders over very rich meals.” Comedy can make your writing more dramatic and give your reader a chance to reflect on the suspense.

3. A good story should start with an earthquake and be followed by rising tension.

Some of Hitchcock’s best stories start with a bang, such as the chase along San Francisco’s twilight rooftops in Vertigo, or the strangulation murder at the beginning of Rope. I start Ghost Maven with the heroine in deep water and in danger when a kayaking trip in Monterey Bay goes terribly wrong.

4. Never use a setting simply as background.

Use it 100%. Hitchcock was adamant that the backgrounds must be incorporated into the drama and made it a rule to exploit elements that are connected with a location. When writing my locations, I also thought how they could be used dramatically. In Ghost Maven, when Alice climbs the Point Pinos Lighthouse, the oldest lighthouse on the West Coast, it twice becomes the setting for her attempted murder.

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