Keeping Readers Worried: A Cheat Sheet

If a reader is worried about your main character, she’ll have to read on just to see whether or not the MC was able to get out of that jam. But what kind of tricks can you use to keep the reader worried?

Check out this cheat sheet:

-As you’re writing, ask yourself, “What’s the worst thing that can happen next?” and then make that happen.

-All characters must be vulnerable to danger.

-Your main character must be weakened by story events (only to later grow because of this).

-Keep thing unpredictable. Plots are stronger when unpredictable, but in order to accomplish this, you also need unpredictable characters. We know in romances that the hero and heroine will meet, be kept apart, only to get together in the end. So, there will always be some sort of predictability. But how they meet, why they meet, how and why they’re kept apart, and how they get together in the end is where you can show how different your story is from the next.

-Delay. Don’t always reveal everything at once. Drop hints, move on, and come back later to fill the reader in.

-The more a character desires something, and the more he can’t have what he desires, the more suspense you create.

-If someone has a secret, don’t reveal it until the last possible second.

-False alarms or red herrings are great ways to keep the reader guessing.

-Use a ticking time bomb. The reader will surely worry if she knows the character is running out of time.

-Keep raising the stakes.

Basically, if your character is comfortable and loving life, the reader won’t enjoy your story. Making life miserable for your character makes the reader happy. Sad, but true. 😉

What other tricks can you use to keep the reader worried about your characters?

Lynnette Labelle