A friend called me the other day and said she was reading my book, but she needed to know if the ending was sad. She was worried it would make her cry. That’s when I knew I had her in suspense, that deliciously awful feeling you get when you don’t know what will happen, but you know it could be really bad.
How did I do it? I don’t know exactly. Foreshadowing, maybe? But you know what I think it all comes down to? Character.
You can drop all the little hints of impending doom you want, but if nobody cares about your character, then they won’t care if something happens to that character.
I’ve read books where all sorts of disasters befall the hero, but I find the character’s personality so grating, I wasn’t that worried about him. In one instance, I was actually hoping the character would get hurt or die, just for some excitement. There were no stakes. He tackled every problem head on and solved it without the slightest bit of mental anguish and hardly any physical exertion. Everything was easy for him. I had no fear, no suspense, no concern for him whatsoever.
So I guess the rule is simple. 1) Make a character I can sympathize with, someone I can admire, or at least like and then, 2) put that person in the fight of their life. Make it so I can’t even tell who’s gonna make it out alive. Then I’ll be in suspense and you’ll have a great story.