Why Tension? Isn’t A Mystery a Puzzle?
A mystery is a story. A good story of any genre needs tension. Tension is what keeps readers reading. Without tension your story can feel episodic with no push for the reader to continue.
What is tension in a story? It’s the state of being stretched tight. In a story, tension applies to a character’s mental and emotional state. In order for readers to feel tension, they must care about the character. When a reader empathizes with the character and the character is confronted with an obstacle, the reader feels the tension.
Escalate the Tension
You create the story by writing scene by scene. Each scene has some type of tension. Build story suspense by increasing the difficulty of the challenges to your protagonist, the sleuth.
Planning your mystery helps with ever-increasing difficult challenges. Start with small ones and build to the final confrontation.
How To Build Tension in Your Mystery
Use a variety of techniques to keep your reader reading by challenging your sleuth in many ways. Don’t forget that the mental and emotional state of your sleuth are the keys to getting your reader involved.
Vary your use of tension-building devices. A conflict similar to the one your hero faced before lessens the tension. Think conflict variety.
Aim to escalate the the conflict as you build tension. Otherwise, your mystery will feel episodic with one sequence following another but without raising the stakes.
Pace Your Moments of Tension
In a mystery, the major tension is solving the puzzle of who killed the victim(s). Each additional moment of tension holds reader interest. Pace your tension building moments at major story points. Escalate the stakes along the way. Keep your revelation to the end of the mystery, so your reader guesses along with your sleuth.
You’ll keep your puzzle agreement with your mystery reader and maintain their involvement by telling a great story filled with conflict.
Photo by Norbert Tóth on Unsplash
Avoid the Sagging Middle in Your Mystery
Mystery writers have an advantage over many other genres when it comes to keeping the middle from sagging. Up to the middle the detective has delved into the evidence and suspects in the victim’s world
The essence of keeping a reader turning pages is heightened tension. Rather than episodic scenes where this happens and then that happens and then something else happens, you create tension by throwing up increasingly baffling obstacles for your detective.
In the chapters after the crisis in the middle, your detective gets glimpses of the killer’s world. These glimpses into the killer’s world are the mystery writer’s advantage, because the detective enters a world within a world. The killer’s world is inside the victim’s world.
In these chapters, the detective gets glimpses of the intersection between the two worlds.
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Reference Article Characters Don’t Speak in Semicolons
After The Middle
Zara Altair, Author
The puzzle of politics, the mystery of murder in ancient Italy. After Rome, before the Middle Ages, Italy belonged to the Ostrogoths.