Monday, April 4, 2011

Cheat Sheet: How to Keep Readers Worried

If a reader is worried about your main character, she’ll have to read on just to see whether or not the MC was able to get out of that jam.  But what kind of tricks can you use to keep the reader worried?

Check out this cheat sheet:

-As you’re writing, ask yourself, “What’s the worst thing that can happen next?” and then make that happen.

-All characters must be vulnerable to danger.

-Your main character must be weakened by story events (only to later grow because of this).

-Unpredictability.  Plots are stronger when unpredictable, but in order to accomplish this, you need characters who are also unpredictable.  We know in romances that the hero and heroine will meet, be kept apart, only to get together in the end.  So, there will always be some sort of predictability.  But how they meet, why they meet, how and why they’re kept apart, and how they get together in the end is where you can show how different your story is from the next.

-Delay.  Don’t always reveal everything at once.  Drop hints, move on, and come back later to fill the reader in.

-The more a character desires something, and the more he can’t have what he desires, the more suspense you create.

-If someone has a secret, don’t reveal it until the last possible second.

-False alarms or red herrings are great ways to keep the reader guessing.

-Ticking time bomb.  The reader will surely worry if she knows the character is running out of time.

-Keep raising the stakes.

Basically, if your character is comfortable and loving life, the reader won’t enjoy your story.  Making life miserable for your character makes the reader happy.  Sad, but true.  ;)

What other tricks can you use to keep the reader worried about your characters?


  1. Excellent cheat sheet, Lynnette. Where were you when I was in high school!

  2. The show Lost did a great job of keeping me worried at ALL times! That's why my husband and I watched six seasons (approx 125 episodes) in under two months.

  3. Great tips Lynnette. I love the information you provide and as I work on my latest project I plan on putting a bunch of it to good use.

  4. These are some great tips! I especially love the one about not giving the character what they want.

    I think one of the keys for me in making readers worry is to give them a character they care enough about to worry about.

  5. Raquel: I was probably in school, too. ;)

    Corey: Wow. That's a lot of shows. And for you to be glued to them... Kind of makes me want to see what the show was all about... Hummm... Can I possibly fit more into my day? Ah, no.

    Slush: I'm glad I can help.

    Shallee: Definitely. If we don't care about the character, we're not going to want to read about her.

    Lynnette Labelle

  6. Great post! And, it's so true. If you successfully create a personal connection between your character and your reader, they will be dying to know the end results. Love it!

  7. Love this! Thanks for posting it. Great advice.

  8. Great tips! If you're character is living a happy life and in a great relationship, there's no story. As you said, making her life miserable makes your reader happy:).