Use a ‘ticking clock’ to build suspense. A ticking clock is a way to give the story tension and drama. It makes the reader want to turn the page to see what happens next. Give your main character a task to accomplish before a certain time or there will be dire consequences.
Hitchcock gave the example: A man and a woman walk into a room, sit at a table, talk for a bit and then BOOM! the room blows up. That’s straight forward action. To build suspense: A man walks into the room, places a bomb under the table and leaves. Now when that man and woman walk in, sit down and start a conversation, we wait on the edge of seats to see what happens. Tick, tick, tick.
EXAMPLES: See if you don’t find each second version more compelling.
STRAIGHT FORWARD ACTION: A man has to find a job.
MORE SUSPENSFUL: A man has to find a job before his wife gives birth in one week.
STRAIGHT FORWARD ACTION: A woman’s child is kidnapped.
MORE SUSPENSFUL: A woman must comply with kidnap demands or her child will be killed in five hours.
STRAIGHT FORWARD ACTION: A bachelor wants to get married.
MORE SUSPENSFUL: A bachelor will lose his entire fortune if he is not married by tomorrow.