Suspense in Dialogue

There are many ways to introduce suspense into dialogue. Suspense is the element of uncertainty. What is going on? What will happen next? Because dialogue is “people telling other people things”, you may wonder how the sharing of information can lead to uncertainty.

  • Revelations: The realization that things are not as they seemed a minute ago. This can evoke feelings of wonder, surprise, or unease. Questions arise in the reader’s mind about what the revelation means for the character’s future.

  • Threat: The belief that the character has somehow come under attack. The threat may be to physical well-being, but the threat could also be mental or emotional. The threat usually connects to the scene goal and complicates the goal somehow. The reader should be left uncertain how the character will respond to the threat.

  • Thoughts: Often this happens when a viewpoint character thinks something that cannot be said aloud. Thoughts reveal information to the reader that non-viewpoint characters are (usually) not privy to. The reader should be led to wonder if/how/when the “secret” will come out. If the thought is one of inner conflict, the reader will be uncertain how the character will cope. Plans for future action can also be suspenseful, especially if the POV character is unsure whether the plan will succeed.

  • Theme: Have a character state the theme and let other characters react. Because the theme is the central topic of your WIP, your characters will have strong – and different opinions about it (even something like “love conquers all” can be controversial for your characters). Voicing the theme can create momentary suspense because the reader knows there are characters who strongly disagree and the reader wonders how such a character will react.

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