Arts & Entertainment, Writing

Writing Suspense

James Patterson

Lesson time 10:21 min

The secret to suspense is...

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

Topics include: Know your genre • Intrigue your reader • Keep raising the stakes • Keep the reader guessing • Don’t reveal too much too soon


Obviously with mystery and suspense it's all about suspense. It's constant non-ending fireworks. It's an adventure that starts and it's going to hold you at the edge you see right to the end. It starts big, it gets even bigger. What happened. Who done it. And the more questions, the better. If there are three or four questions in the book, are these two going to get together? Are they going to separate? What is going to happen in this family if you set up family turmoil? Are we going to find the missing child? And it's got to be genuine. If feels like just somebody throwing in devices, if you feel the manipulation, you lose them there, too. If the reader's going, this is just crap. This is just the usual. Somebody's trying to manipulate me. People kind of want to be manipulated, but they want it done well. If you're going to write something in the genre of mystery suspense, I think you kind of got to be aware of what's out there. Not to imitate it, to avoid it. Because I mean one of things you can do, let's say you don't really write thrillers, but I know I can do it because I'm smart and whatever. But I never read any or have read four. There's a good chance you're going to write something that's already been written before. Or it's going to be very similar. And you're going to think it's great. And 15 years ago it might have been great. So I think it's really useful to know what's written. And not to write stuff like it, to totally avoid it. OK, I know what's happened in the past. What's a new twist on this? What's a new twist on a murder mystery or a series of robberies or whatever it is that you decide is going to be fascinating for people to read about. And fresh and new and you're going to bring some insights to it. And this is a new kind of puzzle. I mean look, The Da Vinci Code, all that-- what was fascinating about that was just the lengths that the writer went in terms of creating this unbelievably complex puzzle. And a lot of people just found that fascinating. And it definitely was unique. I mean I haven't read that kind of complexity in a puzzle, that I can't think of anyway. It's rare. So it felt very fresh to people. And one of things with suspense is, in my opinion, one of the biggest secrets of suspense, is setting up questions that the reader must have answered, must, must, must. There's just no way. And in my books I try to do a lot of those. When I did the first Michael Bennett, Step on a Crack, I mean you start thinking about everything that's going on early in that book. One, which I think is really a tremendous hook for a story, there's one of these state funerals where all these leaders come from all over the place and they're in Saint Patrick's Cathedral. And somebody holds up the cathedral. That to me-- I mean imagine that happening in real life. ...

About the Instructor

James Patterson, the author of 19 consecutive No. 1 New York Times bestsellers, reveals his tricks of the trade. In his first online writing class, he guides you from the start to the finish of your book.

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James Patterson

James teaches you how to create characters, write dialogue, and keep readers turning the page.

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