Suspense Writing Explained

What makes a story a page-turner, exciting from the first page?

A truly suspenseful book, short story, novella or other literary work is much like a theatrical performance.  Just as a well-written and superbly acted drama keeps the audience on the edge of their seats until the curtain call, a suspense filled thriller should captivate the reader until the final word.

When you think about the last story you read that seemed to grab you by the throat and not let go, what exactly made it gripping?

Did you feel the excitement from the first page?  Were the characters captivating?  Was it the heart pounding events that took place?  More than likely it was all of these things combined that made the story exciting.

I always judge a book by how late I stay up to find out what happens next.  If I’m still wide awake at two in the morning, that’s a fantastic book.  So, how do you keep your readers up to the wee hours of the morning?  You have to get them hooked.

What Makes Us Keep Reading a Good Book?

  1. definitely the characters count for me, if I don’t like them then I don’t care what happens to them in the book
  2. the book proposes questions that need to be answered with a hook that doesn’t let go
  3. basically a mystery that drives me to find out the ending
  4.  emotional intensity between being scared out of my wits to heart-broken

To make a suspenseful piece of work you need to use many techniques from playwriting

If you think of the most famous playwright, William Shakespeare, he understood the necessity to build up to a suspenseful climax by feeding his audience tidbits of information during the first and second acts of his plays.  He would then finish his dramatic theatric piece by using the most emotionally-intense scene with the climax in the third act.

Making Your Characters Real

In any great play, there are characters with whom the audience can relate.  Whether they are lovable or loathsome, viewers find some speck of familiarity or general humanity within them.  This keeps the audience actively engaged. When you are writing your short story or novel, if your readers don’t like the people who populate the book, then they will not care less what happens to them.

So there is one really important point, you must give the readers a character that is fleshed-out and real so the readers can care about them

By making the readers care, you give them a reason to go on with the story and to find out what happens to this person you have created.  The wanting to know keeps them reading.

The Setting Must Make Sense

Just as your characters must be realistic in your story’s world, so must your setting seem to make sense.  Your readers must be able to see the universe through the narrator’s eyes, smell the odours, and hear the sounds.  Without solid descriptions, your readers cannot become entangled enough in your work to truly enjoy the roller coaster of suspense.  Take nothing for granted, tell your readers the setting and don’t assume that the reader understands your fictional world as well as you do.

The Plot Must Be Logical Not Impossible to Follow

It is difficult to build suspense if your plot is impossible to follow.  Like a stage play, your plot must have some kind of logic to it.  If it doesn’t, your readers might be too distracted by the complicated plotline to become involved in the suspense.  It is more critical to tell the most important steps your characters have taken rather than describing every movement.  Nothing spoils suspense for a reader like having to flip the pages of the book wondering, “Did I miss something?”

Build up to a Suspenseful Climax within your Fiction

Don’t spring a suspenseful moment on the reader without some kind of foreshadowing.  It is a good idea not to start your work with an emtionally-intense scene.  As in a drama, work your way up to a suspenseful peak.  If you just keep hitting your readers with suspenseful moments without any context, you will only leave your audience perplexed, rather than engaged in the suspense.

Can you think of the last book you read that deeply affected you?

Emotionally charged books by Monica McInerney affect me.  Many times I have shed a few tears along with the characters and laughed with them too.  What was it that caused this effect?  I know for me, it was the characters, their believability.  However, it is really a combination of many things – characters, timing, plot and believability.  A good idea is to re-read a book or story that had a strong effect on you.  See if you can figure out how the author accomplished this.  Pay attention to the different techniques the author used.

The Gathering by Isobelle Carmody

So many different techniques go into a suspenseful book.  One of the most suspenseful and horribly graphic books I have read that affected me was The Gathering by Isobelle Carmody.  I had to teach an excerpt from this book to a Year 10 Class.  The section we were reading was very descriptive, horrific in its nature, intense and suspense filled.  It affected me so much that I had to put the book down and walk away from it for a while to gather my thoughts before I could write up my lesson plan for class.  If you have read The Gathering, then you will know the part I am referring to: chapter 26, pages 212-215  where Nathanial’s dog is burnt alive.

Carmody’s language techniques captivated and terrorised all at the same time

What I realised is that Isobelle Carmody crafted such a brilliant novel with clever use of language forms, features and structure that I was spellbound, captivated and terrorised all at the same time.  The suspense is created by development of the mood from normal to foreboding and fear.  The build up of terror is emphasised by Nathanial’s frantic attempts to get free from the boys holding him.  Buddha is so evil he has poured petrol on Nathanial’s dog Tod.  When the match is lit we know something horrible is about to happen.  Is there some hope that Tod will survive?  The end result is emotionally and physically shocking.  Carmody achieved what she set out to do.

Basic Debating Rules

Basic Debating Rules: Starting with an Explanation of What is a Debate?

A debate is basically an argument with strict rules of conduct.  It is not a shouting match between two sides with different points of view.

Topic Sides

There are 2 sides in a debate:

  1. The Affirmative agrees with the topic
  2. The Negative disagrees with the topic

The Team Line

Three speakers work together as a team.  The Team Line is the basic statement of “why the topic is true” (for the affirmative team) and “why the topic is false” (for the negative team).  It should be a short sentence, presented by the first speaker of each team and used by the other two speakers to enforce the idea of teamwork.

The Debate Announcer and Time Keeper

  1. The Debate Announcer introduces the topic and the students on each team
  2. The Debate Announcer mentions that each speaker will be timed, the minimum speech is 3 minutes and the Time Keeper will tap on the desk when the 3 minutes has elapsed so the Speaker knows
  3. Each team will have the same allowance for time


Each side has 3 speakers who speak in order:

First Speaker of the Affirmative Side Must

  • define the topic
  • present the Affirmative team’s line
  • outline briefly what each speaker in their team will talk about
  • present the first half of the Affirmative case

First Speaker of the Negative Side Must

  • accept or reject the definition.  If you don’t do this it is assumed that you accept the definition.
  • present the Negative team’s line
  • outline briefly what each of the Negative speakers will say
  • rebut a few of the main points of the First Affirmative Speaker
  • the First Negative Speaker should spend about one quarter of their time rebutting
  • Present the first half of the Negative team’s case

Second Affirmative Speaker Must

  • reaffirm the Affirmative team’s line
  • rebut the main points presented by the First Negative Speaker
  • the Second Affirmative Speaker should spend about one third of their time rebutting
  • present the second half of the Affirmative team’s case

Second Negative Speaker Must

  • reaffirm the Negative team’s line
  • rebut some of the main points of the Affirmative’s case
  • the Second Negative Speaker should spend about one third of their time rebutting
  • present the second half of the Negative team’s case

Third Affirmative Speaker Must

  • reaffirm the Affirmative team’s line
  • rebut all the remaining points of the Negative team’s case
  • the Third Affirmative Speaker should spend about two thirds to three quarters of their time rebutting
  • present a summary of the Affirmative team’s case
  • round off the debate for the Affirmative team

Third Negative Speaker Must

  • reaffirm the Negative team’s line
  • rebut all the remaining points of the Affirmative team’s case
  • the Third Negative Speaker should spend about two thirds to three quarters of their time rebutting
  • present a summary of the Negative team’s case
  • round off the debate for the Negative team
  • neither Third Speaker may introduce any new parts of their team’s cases

Importance of Rebuttal

In debating, each team will present points in favour of their case.  They will also spend some time criticising the arguments presented by the other teamThis is called Rebuttal.

There are a few things to remember about Rebuttal:

  1. Logic – to say that the other side is wrong is not enough.  You have to show why the other side is wrong.  This is best done by taking a main point of the other side’s argument and showing that is does not make sense.  A lof of the thinking for this needs to be done quickly and this is one of the most challenging aspects of debating.
  2. Pick the important points  – try to rebut the most important points of the other side’s case.  You will find that after a while these are easer to spot.  One obvious spot to find them is when the first speaker of the other team outlines briefly what the rest of the team will say.
  3. Play the ball – do not criticise the individual speakers, criticise what they say.

The Manner of how you present your debate is important

The manner is how you present what you say and the best manner style is definitely not to shout and thump the table but to keep calm and present your points with a clear speaking voice.  Here are a few tips that might come in handy with your debating style:

  1. Use Cue Cards – debating is a lively interaction between two teams not just reading a speech off notes.  Use cue cards like a prompt in a play as a reference if you lose your spot or train of thought.
  2. Use Eye Contact – if you look at the audience you will hold their attention.  If you spend the whole time reading from your cue cards or looking at a spot away from the audience, they will lose concentration very quickly.  Keep the audience in your sight and their minds will follow your logic.
  3. Your Voice – you must project your voice so that you can be heard but definitely do not shout.  Use the volume, pitch and speech of your voice to emphasise important points of your speech.  Sometimes a loud burst will grab the audience’s attention while a period of quiet speaking will draw the audience in and make them listen more carefully to what you are saying.
  4. Your Body – Make your body work for you by using hand gestures with confidence.  Move your head and upper body to maintain eye contact with all members of the audience.  Stand straight up, definitely do not slouch over the desk or let the audience know you might be nervous.
  5. Nervous Habits – avoid them like the plague.  Playing with the cue cards, pulling strands of your hair, fiddling with your watch or bouncing up and down on your feet will all distract from what you are saying.  Don’t let any one thing detract from your ability to persuade the audience.
  6. Using Big Words – try to avoid going overboard with big words and confusing people.  If you don’t understand the big words yourself then the chances no one else will understand what you are saying either.  It would be a huge mistake to debate and get stuck on a word that you are not sure what it means but also one that you can’t pronounce.

The Marking Scheme in a Debate

Every adjudicator marks to a standard.  You will get a mark out of 40 for matter, manner and method with a total mark out of a 100.

Private Home Tutoring of English Not an On-Line Free Tutoring Service

I am NOT an on-line free tutoring service.  My resources on this website are for general use only.  I do not write student’s essays for them or give advice on essay prompts. However, for more intensive tutoring in a specific area of English, I will visit students in their own homes for private tutoring sessions that are paid on an hourly basis.






Creative Writing Ideas

Creative Writing Ideas: Firstly, Where do you get your ideas from?

Does this ever happen to you?  You have to write something for school.  You sit down to write it, and you just can’t get a word on the paper.  You’re stuck.  You have writer’s block.

You wonder “where do writers get their ideas from?

The answer is not that difficult because ideas can come from everything we see and hear and find in the world around us.  If you break the ideas into three departments you can see that there are stories waiting to be told by looking into:

  1. The Experience Department = Do you travel a lot with your family?  The airport is a great place to watch people arrive and depart.  Ask yourself, why are these people here, what are they wearing and how do they look?  Are they leaving to start a new life somewhere else?  The questions are endless.  If you use your imagination you can think up characters and events based on the people you have seen.
  2. The Memory Department = Your memories are terrific ideas to use for your writing.  They are based on a fantastic character – you!  They are easy to remember as they always have a beginning, a middle and an end.  Can you remember when you first started school, went on a holiday, joined a new team for sport or may be got lost in a large department store?  Do you keep a diary?  You’re lucky if you do because you have all the journal entries there waiting for your new story to begin.  The memories are all locked away in your mind just waiting to emerge as a story.
  3. The What if Department =  What would it be like to have a clone of yourself, someone who looked like you, talked liked you and may be he/she is you and you are really the clone!!  What if you hypnotized your sister and you couldn’t snap her out of it?  What if you could hear your dog’s thoughts?  Think about it and have fun writing.

Concentrate on gathering as many details as you can see but don’t forget smells and tastes in five minutes.  (Even set a timer if you have one to make you think and write faster)

What I do is to think about the senses ie. sight, smell, hearing and taste because they are all part of the world that you inhabit.  Don’t forget feelings, they are just as important in your story as the characters themselves .  If you write down your ideas about a story in a list or notes as fast as you can without making the writing sound perfect, then you have already started your creative story.  Just put the words down, you can always go back and put them in the right order later.

Try putting ideas down using a concept map or fishbone diagram.

If you still can’t write down anything, try this:  Tell the story out loud.

Pretend you’re on the phone, telling a story to your best friend.  Once you’ve told it out loud, it will be easy to get it down on paper.

Private Home Tutoring of English Not an On-Line Free Tutoring Service

I am NOT an on-line free tutoring service.  My resources on this website are for general use only.  I do not write student’s essays for them or give advice on essay prompts. However, for more intensive tutoring in a specific area of English, I will visit students in their own homes for private tutoring sessions that are paid on an hourly basis.



Common Themes and Issues in Texts

Image result for pictures of the themes in texts

Common themes and issues in texts are central to the purpose of any text and relate to the author’s values and point of view.

A text may have one or several themes and issues.  An author selects and deliberately arranges material (characters, setting and plot) in a text to explore, support and develop their themes and issues.  These common themes and issues are open to different interpretations by the audience depending on their own context and perspective.

See the common themes bank below that will help you to identify common themes and issues in set texts so you can track their development as the text progresses:


  •   Power of religious faith
  •   Cultural and religious influences
  •   Restrictive nature of some societies, religions and cultures


  •   Social, family, peer group and legal


  •   Enduring nature of love
  •   Loyalty and betrayal
  •   Betrayal of love
  •   Betrayal of self
  •   Friends
  •   Workplace
  •   Institutions
  •   Family responsibility/loyalty/love
  •   Power of love
  •   Grief and loss of love


  •   Gender roles (traditional vs modern)
  •   Gender conflict

Self awareness

Personal journey

  •   Individuality versus conformity
  •   Loss of innocence
  •   Quest for perfection
  •   Loss of self
  •   Importance of place/identity in society
  •   Power of dreams and ambition
  •   Sense of identity and belonging


  •   Courage in the face of racial or gender discrimination
  •   Destruction of war
  •   Workplace conflict
  •   Cultural conflict
  •   Racial conflict/prejudice
  •   Family conflict
  •   Global conflict

Shakespearean   Themes

  •   Love versus betrayal
  •   Divine rights of kings
  •   Ambition and power
  •   Evil versus goodness
  •   Image versus reality

Private Home Tutoring of English Not an On-Line Free Tutoring Service

I am NOT an on-line free tutoring service.  My resources on this website are for general use only.  I do not write student’s essays for them or give advice on essay prompts. However, for more intensive tutoring in a specific area of English, I will visit students in their own homes for private tutoring sessions that are paid on an hourly basis.