Guest Post: Rayne Hall on Creating Suspense

RayneHall - Fantasy Horror Author - Portrait by FawnheartWRITING CRAFT: WHAT LURKS BEHIND THAT DOOR?

by Rayne Hall

Suspense is a feeling – the feeling of excitement, of tension, of fear, the feeling of needing to know what happens next. As writers, we aim to create suspense, because our readers love it.

Here’s a quick trick for increasing the suspense: Let your protagonist walk through a doorway on her way to danger.

Film makers use this technique frequently. Next time you watch a thriller, cop drama or horror movie, observe how the camera lingers on the door before the hero enters. Subconsciously, the viewer perceives the door as a barrier: if the protagonist crosses it, she is entering a danger zone. The viewer screams inwardly “Don’t open that door!” Of course, the protagonist opens it and enters. By now, the viewer is sitting on the edge of her chair, frightened on the hero’s behalf, needing to find out what happens next.

You can use the same trick in your writing: Put a door between your protagonist and the danger, and linger for a moment before she or he enters. Any kind of door serves: a front door, a garden gate, a gatehouse, a trap door, a stile, a cave mouth, even a gap in a hedge. This works whether your heroine is a police officer on her way to confront a serial killer, or a governess tempted to explore the mansion cellar’s secrets, whether your hero accidentally stumbles into a werewolves’ lair or whether he gets dragged into the torture dungeon.

Slow the story’s pace for a moment and linger at the door. Describe the door: Is dark oak, grimy glass, gleaming steel, or splintering hardwood with peeling paint? Are there any danger clues, such as knife marks, smashed glass, ominous stains, thorny plants, perhaps even a sign “Visitors Unwelcome” or “Keep Out” nailed to the centre?

Describe the sound of the doorbell, or the weight of the keys in her hand. Finally, describe how the door opens:

The door swished open.

The door opened with a squeal.

The door whined inwards on its hinges.

The door rattled open.

By the time your protagonist steps through the door, the reader’s suspense is turned to high volume, intensely anticipating what happens next.

If you want to increase the suspense further still, describe the sound of the door as it closes behind her. For example:

The door snapped shut.

Behind her, the door groaned shut.

The door thudded closed.

The door clanked into its lock.

This suggests to the reader that the protagonist has just walked into a trap, and that her escape route is blocked.

By making your protagonist walk through a door, you can add a lot of suspense to your scene with just a few words. Try it out, and enjoy.

Any Questions?

If you have questions about this technique or want to discuss your ideas for using a door in your story, leave a comment. I’ll be around for a week and will reply. I love answering questions.

WritingScaryScenes RayneHall Cover 2014-01-27Rayne Hall has published more than fifty books in several languages under several pen names with several publishers in several genres, mostly fantasy, horror and non-fiction. She is the author of the bestselling Writer’s Craft series and editor of the Ten Tales short story anthologies.

She is a trained publishing manager, holds a masters degree in Creative Writing, and has worked in the publishing industry for over thirty years.

Having lived in Germany, China, Mongolia and Nepal, she has now settled in a small dilapidated town of former Victorian grandeur on the south coast of England where she enjoys reading, gardening and long walks along the seashore. She shares her home with a black cat adopted from the cat shelter. Sulu likes to lie on the desk and snuggle into Rayne’s arms when she’s writing.

You can follow her on Twitter where she posts advice for writers, funny cartoons and cute pictures of her cat.

Rayne’s Amazon Page:


12 thoughts on “Guest Post: Rayne Hall on Creating Suspense

  1. Thanks, Rayne, for a provocative and helpful post. You have described physical doors. How about psychological ones, ie, should she move to NY in the chance she might get the part or accept a drink from that handsome stranger in the bar, etc. etc.?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for the succinct advise. I have printed out much of your material to hold and read because of its clarity. Thank you for your post, and I just purchased, Writing Fight Scenes…


  3. So now I’m obsessed with how i can fit a door into my story….oven door? doorway to the stars? What a good and concrete idea for writers!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. well maybelike Hansel and Gretel in the witch’s house. Sorry, just having a sill day. And i plan to use that door in my writing.


    1. Great post Rayne – I’m a big fan of doors, in books, movies, and in real life, especially craggy wood doors that look hundreds of years old. Most suspenseful for me – ELEVATOR DOORS. Ooooooooooo – creepy.


    2. Hansel and Gretel – I love the image of them “stuffing” the witch into the oven and slamming the door shut!


  4. A frequent door-associated figure in the mythos/ Campbell/ Vogler Hero’s Journey is a Gatekeeper–a creature that bars passage until the traveller has handed over doubloons or triploons or the answer to a riddle or performed a task. The Gatekeeper can be anything from a spider dancing the kazatsky on the lintel to a dragon. (If you put a dragon in front of your portal, you’d better have something really special beyond it.)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: