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Writing

7 Suspense Story Ideas to Get You Writing a Thriller

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Feb 3, 2020 • 2 min read

The ability to see a story idea hiding in the mundane is one of the most valuable creative writing skills you can develop. Sometimes all it takes when confronting the blank page is a handful of story prompts and a willingness to see where they take you.

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7 Creative Writing Prompts for Crafting Suspenseful Stories

Somewhere in all the good stories floating around your head, there is a great story waiting to be unearthed. Whether you’re setting out to write a thriller, a horror short story, a murder mystery, or any variety of scary story, remember you’re in essence crafting a suspense story. Suspense is what will keep your reader turning pages. Any story can generate excitement, suspense, interest, and exhilaration, but because these are the primary goals of the thriller genre, its authors have a laser-focused expertise in keeping a reader interested. Use these fiction writing prompts as writing exercises or to work through writer’s block:

  1. Go out into the world and observe an ordinary scene. Write it down in your notebook, filling at least one page with a description of the setting and the people in it. Now change the story, and imagine that everything you’ve just described is not what it seems, but that a whole secret underworld exists within the scene. The characters are not who you think they are. Let yourself be paranoid.
  2. Select two stories at random from any news source, and link them in a plausible way. On a page in your notebook, write down a description of the ways in which the two stories are secretly related. Tease out unexpected connections between the people and elements of both stories. Don’t be afraid to make unusual leaps.
  3. Put a dark twist on a well-worn cliché from the fairy tales you grew up with. Adopt the perspective of the villain, or a minor character, and tell the story from anywhere but the beginning.
  4. Write a story loosely based on real life, but take it a different direction. Maybe you recently attended your best friend’s birthday party. Write a story that begins at the party, but then diverges from reality The next morning, you wake up in a hospital bed. A detective tells you that you and one other guest were the only ones to leave the party alive. You don’t remember a thing.
  5. Leverage dramatic irony to ramp up suspense. Write a story about two competing serial killers who are roommates but don’t know the other is a killer. When a dead body is discovered by a police officer not far from the house they share, they begin to suspect one another. Learn more about dramatic irony in our guide here.
  6. Build a suspense story around science fiction tropes. Write a dystopian, sci-fi world defined by continual blackouts, where fire, light, and a few traces of outdated technology define survival and are scarce enough to kill for.
  7. Have fun with a weird idea. Here’s a concept to get you started: It’s Halloween in one of only a few small towns that are still unaffected by a nationwide zombie virus. Write a macabre love story between two zombies on the run: One wants to lay low and hide in plain sight, but the other is showing signs of giving in to their encroaching madness.

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