Suspense is all about time and timing. Waiting for the other shoe to drop, the door to open or the protagonist to turn around and see the monster.
Sometimes the scariest moments are when time itself is “suspended.” We’ve all experienced time seeming to speed up or slow down. Concentration and involvement make time fly; disenchantment and boredom makes time crawl. In life, nothing is longer than the minutes before the answer to an important question. It’s true in fiction too — especially if the answer solves a mystery or reveals the truth.
“And the killer is (pause)….”
Right now, there’s a lot of paranormal fiction where the magical characters are able to suspend time or to slow it down in order to manipulate reality. This can be a very useful plot device, but I much prefer the natural flow of time, the inevitability of time “waiting for no one” while it continues on. So when time suspends in a story, it is simply a feeling and not an actuality. This is, of course, simply my opinion.
Many pages of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” are devoted to traveling and waiting. These long passages — spent in contemplation of fate, writing letters, admiring the worrisome scenery passing outside the carriage, etc. — have the effect of suspending the forward motion of the plot and enhancing the action when it finally occurs. The time spent waiting is not wasted. It is simply the quiet before the storm.
Waiting, waiting, waiting…. And then, the clap of thunder!