Mystery novels are by nature filled with suspense – the hero is met or presented with a puzzle (be it a lost artifact, or a murder) that he or she has to solve. The more the hero (and by extension, the reader) dwells into the mystery, the suspense grows naturally, both from the possible danger of the final conflict with the antagonist, and from the hero’s and the reader’s desire to find out who did the crime. However, there are several ways that you can increase the amount of suspense in a mystery novel, which is why we’ve gathered them below.
1. Open with action
When you open your mystery novel with action, you create a sense of foreboding. Something bad happens – something vitally important is being stolen, or maybe, you will choose to write from the point of view of the person that’s to become the victim of the crime. Opening your novel in such a way will pull the reader into the story immediately, instead of just easing them in. For example, if a beautiful, young woman gets murdered in a dark alley for a mysterious reason, then the reader will feel for her and want the killer caught and brought to justice.
2. Make it personal
After the action opening, it is time for you to present the hero, or heroine of your novel, the person who will decide to pursue the murderer, or find the lost artifact and catch the antagonist. However, he/she shouldn’t just be a random person that got the case by accident – make it personal by giving the individual his/her own personal reasons to catch the guilty party. The protagonist will try harder that way to solve the mystery and will get into the antagonist’s way, which will cause the antagonist to retaliate – whether by personally attacking the protagonist, or by baiting him/her with cryptic messages and threats, which will add to the atmosphere of impending conflict, and possible death of the protagonist.
3. Everybody’s a suspect
Suspense will be raised when it seems that even the person the protagonist trusts the most has kept secrets. He/she will feel like they cannot trust anyone anymore, which will increase their internal turmoil, and will get in the way of solving the mystery. You can have several red herrings (vague clues that could point to anybody the protagonist has contact with) which are really useful to add to the protagonist’s confusion, affecting their psychological state, maybe even make them angry and unapproachable.
4. Raise the stakes
Another way to add suspense is to raise the stakes – from personal, and concerning one person, to a bigger scale. If the protagonist fails, then, for example, maybe a whole family, a town or even the world (if the antagonist threatens to do major damage, or if the stolen artifact is an important cure for a deadly illness) will be affected, hurt or suffer. Amplify the possible outcomes, and possible consequences that might happen if the protagonist fails, and you will add pressure to your protagonist’s state of mind, and suspense and danger to the atmosphere and overall tone of your novel.
5. Race against time
It almost goes without saying that a race against time is one of the best ways to add suspense to a mystery novel. The protagonist doesn’t only need to solve the puzzle, find the killer, or the place where the hostage is being kept, they also have to do it in what seems like very little time, for otherwise, the artifact has already been used to do harm, the killer has struck once more, and the hostage has been eliminated, or the bomb has blown up. Keep the time limit reasonable, however, for your protagonist cannot seem like a miracle worker and solve the puzzle out of the blue in time.
Georgina Roy wants to live in a world filled with magic. As an art student, she’s moonlighting as a writer and is content to fill notebooks and sketchbooks with magical creatures and amazing new worlds. When she is not at school, or scribbling away in a notebook, you can usually find her curled up, reading a good urban fantasy novel, or writing on her laptop, trying to create her own.