The Structure of a Suspense Scene

Part 1 – Stating the scene goal (1 short paragraph)

State what the protagonist‘s goal is and why. Display character emotions of anxiety and suspense.

Part 2 – Suspense building (a few paragraphs)

Have the protagonist knowingly enter a dangerous situation, often using emphasis on a barrier such as a door. Use vivid description and use audio sensory details. Display character emotions of foreboding, aim for reader emotion of suspense.

Part 3 – Increasing danger

Use action and emotion for this part. The protagonist finds out he’s in more danger than he thought. The allies either let him down or get cut off. Display character emotion of anger, frustration and apprehension.

Part 4 – The first confrontation

Protagonist faces a henchman and needs to outwit or defeat him (often in a physical fight). Use hard sounding words and vary sentence length. Emotions: excitement, apprehension, revulsion and or horror.

Part 5 – Escape

The protagonist makes a narrow escape. Write in a fast pace.

Part 6 – Trough (one paragraph)

A brief moment of assumed safety (slow pace). The protagonist gets one moment to catch his breath. The reader gets a moment of relaxation before tension is risen again.

Part 7 – Realisation

The protagonist made a terrible mistake. He feels panic, intense fear. If he hasn’t made a mistake yet, he makes one now because of his panic. Vary sentence length.

Part 8 – Main confrontation

Protagonist faces the scene antagonist. Possibly in a physical fight (face pace). He feels intense fear. He must stay in control of his emotions and take action so avoid using a sense of panic or terror at this stage.

Part 9 – Aftermath

He either escaped, became imprisoned (doomed) or defeated the antagonist. He is no longer in acute danger (write similarly as you did in part 6) and slow the pace. Protagonist assesses the situation and forms a plan. End the scene with his resolve to take specific action.

Bell, J. S. (2011) Crafting novels & Short Stories.