Tension and suspense are not quite the same thing so I handle them in a slightly different manner. I’m sure there are many more ways to develop both but below I will explain some of my favorite ways.
There are three methods that I like to use to create suspense. The first is typically thought of as Foreshadowing but I do not like to do it in the traditional fashion of giving a flash back to a similar story within the main story. My preferred method is to have a side quest or side objective that leaves a clue as to what is coming. Do this a few times and a savvy storyteller might be able to connect the dots.
Also fairly common is having the protagonist solve a simple problem early in the story then use the same method to save the world. It works fine but has been done many times before.
Method two I call the unasked question. Take your protagonist and have them searching for some piece of information that will help them in their quest. Then you put the protagonist in a room with the person who has the information they need. The audience is constantly wondering when they will ask the question but the protagonist doesn’t know they should ask.
Method three comes from watching Hitchcock movies and it is similar to method two except in it’s execution. Where method two uses two shifting characters method three uses an inanimate object.
It works like this. You take some devastating object and hide it in your scene. It can be anything really; a bomb, a dead body, a stolen necklace, or simply a love letter. You have your characters dancing around the object without knowing it is there but you let the audience in on the secret.
To create tension between characters I like to use their objectives. The simplest way is to simply give two characters the same objectives and make them compete for it. A slightly more complicated way would be to have one characters objective be to stop the protagonist.
At it’s core what this does is create an inevitable conflict between the characters but as they move closer to their objective tension builds. To expound on this concept you can add in a third character that may sympathize with each side. For example a love triangle.
Good luck in your next story. If you enjoyed reading or found this helpful check out the rest of my blog here.