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Mar 18, 2020

What is suspense vs. mystery? What makes these two elements important to a story?

By Ash Jackson.

Let’s take a look at the definitions for these two. 


According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, suspense is a state or feeling of excited or anxious uncertainty about what may happen. What does this mean to a story? As an author, creating suspense is an important part of a book. Too much suspense can kill a story while too little can make it fall flat, efficiently destroying it. It’s an emotional process that readers need to go through to fully enjoy a story and writers need to treat with care. Suspense is a threat or danger that needs to be resolved or faced head-on. It’s not about solving puzzles- far from that! 

Suspense keeps readers moving from chapter to chapter, page to page, to satisfy the curiosity they feel to know what happens next. It drives the story forward and can imprint fear and anxiety deep in the minds of others if done right. At the start of the story, the main character isn’t aware of what’s going on and will only learn more as information is gradually presented and the story progresses. 

Without suspense, stories will be boring. They’ll be like the movie you’ve been waiting to watch for a while only to find it’s a total bust and there was no tension that led up to any suspense. That would be a waste of money. We want readers to be on the edge of their seats, guessing what’s happening next in excitement and anticipation. It’s an unknown but immediate situation, threat, or event that causes fear to the characters. Readers need to go through the journey and as writers, we’re shining a light at the end of the tunnel, promising great things to happen if the light is followed. It can be tension before a big event, rising from uncertainty from the great unknown, 


According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, mystery is the condition or quality of being secret, strange, or difficult to explain. What does this quality bring to your story? It adds tension in all the right places! Unlike suspense, it’s an intellectual process. People are curious creatures. It’s a deeply rooted fact in human nature. They like to solve and know about things they’re unaware of, and to reach conclusions on their own. Mysteries are intriguing. 

Mystery is like a puzzle in any genre, whether crime, romance, sci-fi, or in real-life events, where the facts are unknown. It raises a question and makes people want to find the answer. Not only is the writer supposed to provide clues for the reader, but also to the main character as well. The plot has to be tight, every cause creating an effect and every effect having a cause, like a puzzle where every piece has to fit together to form the bigger picture. 

A mystery can be anything: natural or supernatural. An unsolved crime or a story where people keep developing new twists and turns, or facts from the past are revealed. Layer after layer of new information peeled slowly to create a puzzle that just demands to be solved. 

Suspense and mystery are all important to stories. The two counterbalance each other and without the other, there is a risk of falling flat. 


About the Author: Ash Jackson
Ash Jackson is a teen writer with big dreams. Ever since she got hooked onto the world of fantasy and magic, she’s been trying to write stories with a goal of one day publishing the words inside her mind. Right now, she is working on a series about mages and what it truly means to be a ruler when she can squeeze it in throughout her chaotic school and social life. Whether creative or not, she simply loves writing! Being a young writer has taught her many things and in her blog with co-author Rowan Aston, another teen writer like her, they share what they’ve learned in hopes of helping others get started on their own writing.