Suspense… in Life and in Fiction Writing

 I have been reading about the role of suspense in fiction writing and, as it often happens in the world of writers, I found a number of excellent articles describing features and merits of suspense, but none of them provided a decent definition of the term. Some works characterize suspense as a “sense of anticipation or worry that the author makes the reader feel” ( or, which provides general understanding of the role of suspense, but is a bit misleading because, according to this description, suspense is a human feeling: an emotion, that’s all.

The scheme which I posted above presents suspense in one row with other genres of literature: mystery, horror. It is not the first time that I see attempts to present suspense as a whole separate genre of litreature:

“So, you’ve been working on a new novel… what genre? Historical again?”

“No. Suspense.”

“Ah, I see.”

Maeve Maddox, the author of the article ‘Is Your Novel “Mystery,” “Thriller,” or “Suspense”?’ ( calls suspense a separate genre of fiction, with a note that “sometimes the three are presented as separate genres, and sometimes they’re lumped together as Mystery/Suspense, or Suspense/Thriller”. This shows that many authors and critics today have realized that suspense is not necessarily a mystery or horror, it is something different, because its meaning has changed for the reader. The reader sees suspense as a puff of obscurity on her face.


Suspense is not necessarily a mystery or horror, it is simply a puff of obscurity on your face.

“SUSPENSE: the main character may become aware of danger only gradually. In a mystery, the reader is exposed to the same information as the detective, but in a suspense story, the reader is aware of things unknown to the protagonist. The reader sees the bad guy plant the bomb, and then suffers the suspense of wondering when or if it will explode.” (Maeve Maddox; Please, find the link above)

This description corresponds well with the above scheme and also shows specificities of suspense as a high-grade genre of fiction literature. So I have been wondering: isn’t it a sign signaling to all authors that a new genre has been born and is actively building its way into the list of “traditional” genres of fiction? Can I write in a letter to a literary agent: “My novel is a suspence with some elements of fantasy”, or would it be safer to call my novel a “suspense fantasy”, where the main accent falls on the word “fantasy”?

Can we call suspense a genre of fiction? If yes, how ripe is the genre today? Somehow I have no doubt that suspense will soon form into a separate, widely accepted genre of lirature, because in the 21-st century people who read are seeking for fast-paced, action-packed, yet emotional fiction, and suspense is exactly what they need, because it apeals to the readers’ hearts.

In their reviews of suspense, some authors just leave it without a definition and move right on to discussing the distinguishing qualities of suspense fiction in comparison with other genres. Here is, by the way, a very good analysis by Stephen James, called Six Secrets to Creating and Sustaining Suspense, available on Writers Digest at In this article, the author looks at four factors necessary for suspense – reader empathy, reader concern, impending danger, and escalating rension – which are regarded as the author’s roadmap to the readers’ hearts. Then, the author suggests six ideas, or tasks, which a writer should set and achieve to create a good suspense effect in a piece of fiction:

  • put characters in jeopardy;
  • include more promises and less action;
  • keep every promise you make;
  • let the characters tell readers their plans;
  • cut down on the violence; and
  • be one step ahead of yur readers.

These tips, along with the detailed explanations provided in the article, must be very valuable for every author, as they set direction for an author’s effort, and still, these are just tools of suspense as a writing method, they are not the laws of a genre… yet.

Stephen James concludes his article with the words-

“No matter what you write, good prose really is all about sharpening the suspense.”

Well, if this statement is true, it does not make suspense a separate genre yet, but it surely makes it even more: a cross-genre requirement, a condition of achieving high quality of writing, a goal to which every author should strive, regardless of the genre they are trying to conquer.

Well, to me, the question is still there: what place does suspense have in contemporary literature? Is it already a separate genre or is it rather a method of writing?

Do you believe that in a couple of years, when more suspense masterpieces have arrived, all book stores will install shelves with a one-word sign “SUSPENSE”?

If you have answers to these questions, please, share. I will appreciate any comments on this. Thank you.


Today, suspense is a method of writing, which is making its way to become a separate genre of fiction.


Choosing a Title For Your Book

A few thoughts on choosing a title for your book

As a debut fiction writer, who has spent decades teaching science methodology and writing solely in the genre of science, I have been following writers’ discussions about creative writing lately with unspoiled curiosity of a child. There are dozens of topics in the world of fiction writing which deserve most careful attention, and one of the first among them is giving your book the right name. I find it as important as having a photogenic face for a photo model. The title is the face of your book, it can either help you attract potential readers or scare them away and make them run, mumbling under their nose, “if this is the cover, I’d better not look inside!”


No matter what genre your book belongs to, there are a few universal things which every author should keep in mind (and here the logic of a researcher speaks loudly in me): the title is an inseparable part of the book, which means it must

1) grow out of it (be consistent with it, if you like);

2) reflect the author’s principal message; and

3) identify the genre of the book.

Within a genre, there may be other rules and commonly accepted traditions, but the three above items are the identifying, basic principles for all books. If you call a romance novel “A Midnight Death In A Tunnel”, or call a detective story “My Sweet Emma”, your readers (not to mention the book store assistants and librarians) will be misled.

The title is supposed to set a tone for your book and create a certain expectation in the reader’s mind. A strong title is the book opener, which should entice the reader to look inside.

What is the trick of selecting the right name for the book then? I believe, every writer can help himself with the task by doing the following things.

First, you need to identify the genre of your book, because depending on it, you can set the right tone, or impression, or expectation. It is always a good exercise to put it down and take a good look at it. As an example, look a this: a romance novel “Rick, Deer Hunter” Does it look right to you? To me, it doen not. If my book’s message is to offer people more love and tenderness, I would rather leave this name to writers of adventure books.

To get the taste of commonly used names for your genre, look up a dozen of popular books in the same genre as yours. You’ll need to develop a feel for the most typical names in your genre. As soon as you do this, good names will start popping up in your mind right away.

Another good exercise to do is to write a list of keywords which characterize your book. They may be nouns, verbs or agjectives; they may be short phrases. They should not be the most comonly used words or names. The main quality of a keyword is to characterize your principal idea, the mission of your book, the reason why you spent months of your life writing it.

You may also make up lists of words which describe your main characters, or an important location, or a sensation caused by a scene. Take visual words or words that bring up emotions. You may find a single word whish would perfectly fit as a title, or select a phrase (preferably easy to pronounce and remember); after surveying your lists thoroughly, pick out the words which seem to fit your content the best. Compare your resulting list of titles to those of the popular books in your genre. I hope these exercises will help you select a good name for your book.

There are a few more things which I understood about book titles both, as a reader and as an author. First of all, I realized that a good fiction title always has a touch of emotional tension in it. Compare, for example, these titles:

Bill Murray’s Life (quite neurtal and plain: everyone’s got a life), and

Bill Murray’s Return (provides expectation of an unusual story), and

Bill Murray’s Rise and Fall (gives expectation of a fundemental life story, probably with a sad end), and

Bill Murray’s Revenge (creates expectation of an emotional story with elements of detective).

Comparing book titles is a very good exercise, because it reveals for you how powerful the name of a book may be.

At the same time, the title should be short, simple to pronounce and easy to remember. It can contain a one-word description of a story in action, like- The Intervention, A Breakthrough, or Reunion. It may contain a key word and one more descriptive word (name) to clarify the general mood of the book: My Passionate Diaries, or Darkness At Noon, or The Age Of Innocence. The title may also contain a geographical name, but then, for sure, it should create an image (or a sensation) in a reader’s mind, like these names: The Maltese Falcon, Appointment in Samarra, An American Tragedy. Well, of course, there is an endless variety of names to choose, which only makes the choice more difficult. Still, every writer should keep in mind a few basic things

Whenever I need to give a name to a work of writing, I prepare a little checklist of questiond for myself, no matter wht genre my work belongs to. Here is the list:

– Is the title consistent with the contents of my work (or at least with a part of it)?

– Does the title create an expectation of a particular genre in which the work is written?

– Does the title sound (look) clear and simple, is it easy to remember?

– Can this title entice a reader to open the book?

– Is there at least one special word in my title that can attract my particular readers’ audience?

If I answer all five questions right away and am satisfied, this means I have selected a good title.

Corey Williams

writer and director

~ dreams to remember ~

Willie Gordon Suting | poet | writer | freelancer | bibliophile | crooner | fashionista | Shillong,Meghalaya,Northeast India

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