When you set this evil antagonist on a collision course with an innocent protagonist, every aspect of your novel will be imbued with suspense. As you tell of Violet’s nightmares of a bad man watching her through her bedroom window while her stoned guardian uncle is largely absent, the reader will continuously imagine the child killer trying to assuage the torment of his own past by stalking the girl. The suspense is built in to this plot and these characters.
However, while I will want to know what happens, the story sounds pretty cliched and with little depth. At its core, the basics of suspense can be easy to create, and it does the job of getting the reader to turn the page.
But cheap suspense cheapens your novel. Readers are sophisticated, and they will only come back for more of your stories if you give them something more nuanced, something more complicated, something more redeeming.
So you complicate the story in a way that makes it more interesting and adds even more suspense.
Let’s say that back when the killer escaped, perhaps one of the people in the courtroom was a disgraced ex-cop named Kyle who once moonlighted as an off-duty guard ten years before. He’d been hired to be the bodyguard of a teenaged girl, the daughter of a wealthy mob-connected businessman who had been threatened. One day, the teenager wanted Kyle, her bodyguard, to take her to a fashion show. While Kyle was distracted by the pretty models, the teenager was kidnapped by the businessman’s enemies and never found again.
The result of the teenager disappearing was tragic beyond description. Kyle was sued for millions by the businessman, fired by the police department, and vilified by the community. He began drinking to excess. He made an unsuccessful suicide attempt. His wife divorced him.
Kyle struggled with life, seeking some small redemption ever since the tragedy. He began going to murder trials, studying defendants, trying to find something to suggest that he wasn’t as bad a person as the killers on trial.
When the defendant stabbed the bailiff and escaped, Kyle decided to make it his personal mission to track down the killer. He believes that if he can catch the killer, he can begin to rebuild his shattered life.
Now you’ve got me totally involved with Violet and the escaped killer and the ex-cop who’s looking for redemption. I’m eager to find out what happens with all three characters.
This story also allows you to go in two directions because you have two potential protagonists. You can have Violet be your hero and show the story of a child reacting to rising danger. In the climactic battle, you can have Violet demonstrate a wily brilliance in using her small size and a child’s instinct to evade and even help the cops bring down a killer.
Or you can have the ex-cop be the protagonist, up against a younger, stronger, smarter, more vicious killer. The cop is fighting not just to save the little girl’s life but his own life and reputation as well. The story of redemption can be almost as powerful as the story of saving a child from a killer. Redemption can be a background that informs every aspect of the more immediate battles.
These story components create ongoing suspense.