How to Increase Story Suspense With Breadcrumbs

Every author’s first and foremost goal is convincing readers to keep reading all the way to the final chapter. So how do we increase story suspense?

There are, of course, many answers. The reasons readers decide to keep reading include everything from lovable characters to funny dialogue. But at the most foundational level the reason readers stick with a book all the way to page 528 is that there’s something they want to know. The author has raised a question in the first chapter, and the reader is curious enough to read through 528 pages to find the answer.

Sometimes that question is something basic, such as will the heroine’s marriage survive? Sometimes it’s something more complicated, such as will the detective hero figure out his split personality is the mass murderer he’s been tracking all this time?

However, no matter how emotionally resonant or high concept your question, the question by itself won’t be enough to get readers all the way to end of the book. After all, 528 pages is a long way to go, and readers today have notoriously short attention spans. So what do clever authors do? They keep reminding readers of the initial question and tantalizing them with small and incomplete clues to the answer. These clues are the breadcrumbs that will lead curious readers on a trail right to the Big Finale’s front door.

In a mystery, these breadcrumbs might take the form of literal clues. Perhaps the heroine, searching for her mother’s killer, keeps discovering hints of the truth, which lead her closer and closer to the answer.

But breadcrumbs can also come in other forms. For example, if readers are wondering whether your romance is going to end happily ever after, your breadcrumbs might include moments of progression in the two leads’ relationship.

Whatever the case, just make sure your every plot point is a breadcrumb reinforcing your readers’ overpowering need to read on and find the answers.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! What’s the latest breadcrumb you’ve used to increase story suspense? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. The first line in my WIP is a breadcrumb – the maim characters see a man under tje influence of a particular drug – which becomes important later on in the story.

    I love leaving breadcrumbs and it is one of the skills I am constantly trying to improve.

  2. I’m actually doing pretty good in the breadcrumb department with my latest. My mc has just discovered some cash in the backpack as well as a knife. In previous chapters she’s discovered other things(items), learned things (through newspaper articles), and remembered bits and pieces, all of which are propelling her – and hopefully the reader – forward.

  3. You’ve heard of poisoning pigeons? Well this is similar. I spike my breadcrumbs with amphetamines, so my readers stay up all night to finish my book. They interpret their fast-beating heart and shivers as enjoyment, so they always leave positive reviews.

  4. @Krista: Breadcrumbs are kind of a like an inside joke between the writer and the reader, and it’s always fun sowing the hints into the plot, sometimes making them perfectly obvious, sometimes disguising them a bit and making the reader work for them.

    @Mshatch: Spot on! I don’t know anything else about the story, and I’m curious!

    @AE: Hah! That’s the most brilliant thing I’ve heard all morning. Wanna share your recipe?

  5. In my latest WIP, I’m addressing an interesting question in a western scenario.
    By continually harping back to the question, posing different characters views on it, I hope to keep the reader’s attention all the way through the story.

  6. Not only is that a good strategy for “breadcrumbing,” it’s also the best way to deepen your theme.

  7. Sometimes the best way to get past those tough scenes – whatever their focus – is just to write them as quickly as possible. Just let the words pour out. Half of what you write will probably be junk, but the other half will give you a starting point.

  8. I think I’ve got a good one in the WIP. Just how could this have happened?

    The victim was a male of athletic build, with cropped, sandy hair. He lay face-down on the firm sand, arms by his sides, waves lapping at his feet. His fawn jacket and pale blue jeans, dusted with salt crystals, were hardly discoloured by the seawater.

    What drew Jane’s eyes was the tell-tale mark of the weapon that had killed him, a neat hole in his back half an inch across, the fabric of the jacket singed and the flesh charred.

    No projectile had done this. It was a spacegoer’s weapon, something that delivered a pulse of pure energy, converting blood, flesh and bone to vapour in microseconds.

    It looked very much like the burn from an Arcturian Confederate Space Fleet hand energy weapon. But as far as Jane knew there was only one on this planet.

    And that one was clipped to her belt.

  9. Your Unconscious is capable of dropping crumbs without your knowledge . . . until you discover them.

    On Pg 58, Paloma sobs and laughs in the same breath. On Pg 230, Tenirax realizes why.

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