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Creating Suspense


Don't open that door!


Here's a quick trick for increasing the suspense:

Let your protagonist walk through a doorway on her way to danger.
Film makers use this technique frequently. Next time you watch a thriller, cop drama or horror movie, observe how the camera lingers on the door before the hero enters. Subconsciously, the viewer perceives the door as a barrier: if the protagonist crosses it, she is entering a danger zone. The viewer screams inwardly “Don't open that door!” Of course, the protagonist opens it and enters. By now, the viewer is sitting on the edge of her chair, frightened on the hero's behalf, needing to find out what happens next.

Describe the sound of the doorbell, or the weight of the keys in her hand.

Finally, describe how the door opens:

The door swished open.

The door opened with a squeal.

The door whined inwards on its hinges.

The door rattled open.


By the time your protagonist steps through the door, the reader's suspense is turned to high volume, intensely anticipating what happens next. If you want to increase the suspense further still, describe the sound of the door as it closes behind her. For example:

The door snapped shut.

Behind her, the door groaned shut.

The door thudded closed.

The door clanked into its lock.


This suggests to the reader that the protagonist has just walked into a trap, and that her escape route is blocked.


By making your protagonist walk through a door, you can add a lot of suspense to your scene with just a few words. Try it out, and enjoy.

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You can use the same trick in your writing: Put a door between your protagonist and the danger, and linger for a moment before she or he enters. Any kind of door serves: a front door, a garden gate, a gatehouse, a trap door, a stile, a cave mouth, even a gap in a hedge. This works whether your heroine is a police officer on her way to confront a serial killer, or a governess tempted to explore the mansion cellar's secrets, whether your hero accidentally stumbles into a werewolves' lair or whether he gets dragged into the torture dungeon.


Slow the story's pace for a moment and linger at the door. Describe the door: Is dark oak, grimy glass, gleaming steel, or splintering hardwood with peeling paint? Are there any danger clues, such as knife marks, smashed glass, ominous stains, thorny plants, perhaps even a sign “Visitors Unwelcome” or “Keep Out” nailed to the centre?

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