Suspense in Literature Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Tawnya Eash

Tawnya has a master's degree in early childhood education and teaches all subjects at an elementary school.

If you've ever watched a movie and felt like you were sitting at the edge of your seat, you saw an excellent example of suspense! In this lesson, you'll learn about suspense in literature and see how books can also leave you feeling the same way.

Suspense in Literature

'One minute to go and he'd be eleven. Thirty seconds...twenty...ten...nine - may be he'd wake Dudley up, just to annoy him -


The whole shack shivered and Harry sat bolt upright, staring at the door. Someone was outside, knocking to come in.' In this passage from Harry Potter and the Last Sorcerer's Stone by J. K. Rowling, the suspense makes you want to read on to see who was outside the door.

Suspense is an element of literature used to hold onto the interest and anticipation of a reader throughout a story. Suspense can even help readers feel connected to the characters as they constantly wondering what will happen to them.

Stories with suspense follow a certain story structure, with a plot that's full of anticipation in order to build up to the major event, or climax. This chart on story structure shows the main part of a suspense story.

Story Structure in Suspense Stories
Suspense structure

Key elements you see in suspense stories are foreshadowing and cliffhangers. Let's take a look at them!


Foreshadowing is when authors provide hints or clues about something that will occur later in the story. This gives you an idea or feeling that something more is going to happen.


I stayed up late to complete my science project on volcanoes that was due the next day. Feeling exhausted after, I jumped right into bed without cleaning up. Since I woke up late, I was rushing to get ready for school. I hurried out of the house to catch my bus with that feeling I was forgetting something. When I got to school I realized...

Think about what this character most likely forgot. Did you guess that it was the science project? Nice work! Let's look at the parts of the text that gave you a hint this might happen; these are the elements of foreshadowing:

  • worked late on a science project that was due the next day
  • never cleaned up
  • woke up late and rushed
  • had a feeling I was forgetting something

Now we'll take a look at cliffhangers.


The word cliffhanger might make you think of someone who is hanging from a cliff. Will they pull themselves up, or lose grip and plummet to the bottom?

A cliffhanger in literature is an element that leaves you wondering. It is usually used at the end of a book or section of a book, and makes you want to know what will happen next.

Think of the example from the beginning when someone knocked on Harry Potter's door. By ending the section there, the author left you 'hanging'. You had to read more to see what happened.

Here's another example:

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