Pacing, Tension, and Suspense

David Baldacci

Lesson time 18:52 min

How do you keep readers on the edge of their seats? David shares how he builds suspense, using such strategies as red herrings, plot twists, cliffhangers, and a ticking clock.

David Baldacci
Teaches Mystery and Thriller Writing
In his MasterClass, bestselling thriller author David Baldacci teaches you how he fuses mystery and suspense to create pulse-pounding action.
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[MUSIC PLAYING] - Thrillers, for me, are books that I like to read. I was a big Robert Ludlum fan, you know, growing up. And he started the Bourne series-- "Bourne Identity," and "Bourne Supremacy," and all that. And that was just a great ride because it took you all over the world, and you got to see different cultures, and how people interact, and secrets, and high stakes, and you know, it mattered. So I was kind of drawn to those stories just because it thrilled me. And I thought it would be kind of fun to try to write a thriller like that. Building mystery into your thrillers is paramount. It's important, because all thrillers have a sense of mystery. You know, you could look like a Dan Brown's books. You wouldn't necessarily classify them simply as mysteries. They're thrillers because they take place all over the world and the stakes are very high. But there are clues that, you know, this characters follow to try to resolve some type of issue. You write a story that's not a thriller or a mystery, the story's beautiful, it has characters, and dialogue, and narrative, and all that, but the mystery component adds another layer. You have to have clues, and red herrings, and twists, and deception, and you're trying to fool the reader until the end, before they discover who did it. It's a house of cards, unlike any other book. And if I start off with a clue that's here, that clue has to mean something up here, you know, when the book is nearing its finish. And if I get that connection wrong, the whole house of cards comes tumbling down. So you have to build those pieces in, and this is where it's really important to take the baby steps, and to do a little piece at a time. Don't try to think of the whole mystery all at once. How are things gonna fit together fluidly? And all that. That's impossible. That's overwhelming. You'll be like-- you'll be paralyzed. You won't be able to write a single word. So just start with one thing. Please take baby steps. You don't have to do everything in one day. And oftentimes, for me, you know, one clue builds upon another clue, builds upon another clue. Give yourself the time and the latitude to come up with these things. It's not easy to do. It's not like they just come out of your brain like a manufacturing line. It's takes time, and one often builds off the other. [MUSIC PLAYING] What's a thriller without great suspense? Everybody wants to be on the edge of their seats, nervous, not knowing what the next page is gonna bring to them, and that's where I live. That is my sweet spot. That's where I'm in my element. So I love to open stories with suspense right from the get-go. I hit the ground running, and oftentimes, I do that with a loss somehow. Somebody loses something in those very few pages, first few pages, and then all of a sudden, the suspense is there because loss always leads to retribution to a payback. And people don't know how that's gonna happen, where it's coming ...

Captivate your readers

David Baldacci has captivated readers across the world with gripping, suspense-fueled thrillers. Now the New York Times–bestselling author of 38 novels shares his techniques for crafting authentic characters, developing research-based plots, and navigating the world of publishing. Learn how to write a novel with red herrings, clues, and plot twists that will keep your readers turning the pages.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

Another great class. I learn something from everyone. This is a writer I have not read before but will have to now. Plus I really enjoyed the class.

Awesome class. Helpful, honest, passionate and inspiring. Thank you

This class has been so inspiring and full of detailed information that has helped me as a writer. I loved it!

Incredible, I had no idea how much knowledge I would be able to pick up from one person, from one person's perspective and process and overall experience. I would really love to meet David Baldacci one day, just to tell him thank you. Amazing guy, humble, smart and inspiring, so thank you David Baldacci and thank you Masterclass!


Michele H.

Pragmatic and very concrete advice using examples from his own works to make his points. A great class so far!

Stacy E.

Thank you for being so generous with your knowledge. It has helped me immensely with my story.


I feel like I'm getting the heart and soul of David Baldacci and he's offering it with such a generous spirit. I'm loving the course, so far, and am also reading a lot of his older novels to fit them into his narrative on writing. It's been interesting and educational.

Graeme R.

I love David Baldacci. He's generous in all the ideas he shares, and he makes the craft so clear.

Susan T.

Okay, yeah I love the idea of the setup in The Fix. However, Mr. Baldacci is bit off point in describing reader surprise because the book description for The Fix clearly states that a man kills a woman execution-style then turns the gun on himself. In small publishing house an author is responsible for submitting the book description. I know since I’ve been published in small presses as well as Simon and Shuster...see Susan Arden...that’s me. Anyway, the setup is superb, not sure why the surprise was blown. Reading it now.

Susan T.

Mr. Baldacci is one of the best M.C. presenters. If you’ve taken writing classes and/or have published a novel the material makes sense, actually is exponentially motivating.

Jodie M.

Not to humble-brag or toot-my-own-horn... I guess after 80 odd stories published he's entitled to.

Joseph C.

Did you know what I saw? is was really really weird I could not figure it, something out of this world had to be

Suzie L.

Great points here and loved the exercises. This helped me improve a chapter I was in the middle of writing!