How To Create Suspense

Do you know how to create suspense?

One of Alfred Hitchcock’s lesser known films, Rope, is also one of his best.

The film begins with two men committing a murder in plain view of the audience. The two men then hide the body in a large wooden chest. Soon the audience realizes, to their shock, that the two men have planned to host a dinner party just moments after the murder—at the scene of the crime.

As the unsuspecting guests enter the apartment, your stomach just gets tighter and tighter as you watch them fall into this horrifying trap.

For nearly the entire movie, the audience is on the edge of their seats, wondering if, or when, the unsuspecting dinner guests will discover that they’ve been dining with murderers, and that the murdered man is in the same room as they are.

The Genius of Alfred Hitchcock

Now, it sounds as if I just gave away the surprise ending of an Alfred Hitchcock film. But I haven’t. Because if you were to watch this movie yourself, you’d find that all this information is given to you in the first 15 minutes of the film. In fact, much of what I have just told you is revealed in the synopsis of the film itself.

In the play that the film was based on, the murder is not shown to the audience and happens before the play even begins. This means that it is not made absolutely clear to the audience that the murdered man is hidden in the chest.

When the play ended up in Hitchcock’s hands, he changed all that when he adapted it into a film: he made sure that the audience knew that the murdered man was hidden in the chest at the very beginning of the movie.

Why did he do that?

Hitchcock did that because he knew that if he withheld that pertinent information, he would only elicit a few minutes of shock near the end of the film. However, if he revealed the secret of the murder right away, he could give his audience 80 straight minutes of unadulterated, edge-of-your-seat, thrilling suspense.

If you have watched the film, you will agree with me that result is incredibly effective.

Because as soon as the audience knows that there’s a dead body hidden in the chest, there is no telling where this story could go.

Everyone is vulnerable—even the murderers themselves—and at any given moment, you can easily imagine something going terribly, terribly wrong.

How To Create Suspense

This is how you create suspense:

Don’t withhold sensitive information that could put your characters in danger. Instead, broadcast that sensitive information to your reader as soon as possible. That way, your reader has no choice but to walk on eggshells for the rest of your story, keeping them engaged and glued to the page until the very end.

A guest post by regular WTD contributor Ollin Morales. He is a fiction writer and professional blogger. His blog, Courage 2 Create, chronicles his journey as he writes his first fiction novel. His blog offers writing advice as well as strategies to deal with life’s tough challenges. His blog was named one of The Top Ten Blogs for Writers by Write To Done two years in a row (2011, 2012).

Image: man reading suspense novel courtesy of

About the author

Ollin Morales

Ollin Morales's blog, Courage 2 Create, chronicles the author’s journey as he writes his very first novel. His blog offers writing tips as well as strategies to deal with life’s toughest challenges. After all, as Ollin’s story unfolds, it becomes more and more clear to him that in order to write a great novel, he must first learn how to live a great life.