by Katherine Hutchinson-Hayes

Editing suspense and thriller novels requires a different approach than editing other genres. The primary objective of most suspense and thriller novels is to keep the reader captivated and engaged throughout the story. Editing is essential in achieving this goal, as it helps the author fine-tune their work.

Here are four steps that can aid in effectively editing suspense and thriller novels while ensuring the reader remains on the edge.

  1. Understand the Elements of Suspense and Thriller Novels

Before an editor can effectively edit a thriller or suspense novel, they must first understand the unique elements of these genres. Suspense and thriller novels are characterized by their focus on tension, mystery, anticipation, and posing a question. They often involve a protagonist in danger, a villain actively working against the protagonist, and unexpected plot twists and turns. At its core, every story poses a question and provides an answer by the end. However, the suspense and thriller genres amplify the anticipation for that answer.

  1. Focus on Pacing and Tension

To keep readers engaged, suspense and thriller novels must have a good pacing that builds tension throughout the story. Editors should pay close attention to the story’s pacing, ensuring that it ebbs and flows to keep the reader engaged and on their toes. They should also work with the author to heighten tension in critical moments, such as during a confrontation between the protagonist and the villain.

Suspense is derived from the verb “to suspend,” meaning to hold back or delay something. When we experience suspense, we know something will happen, but we don’t know when or how it will occur. This creates a sense of anxiety and tension that keeps the audience engaged and eager to find out what happens next.

While any book can introduce a character and give them a problem to solve, the editor of a suspense or thriller novel plays a vital role in supporting the author. The editor’s role is critical in maintaining reader engagement, especially when there are delays in resolving the main problem. By editing the manuscript, the editor helps maintain the suspense and keeps the reader hooked.

  1. Ensure Consistency

Suspense and thriller novels frequently have intricate storylines and a large cast of characters. By working together, authors and editors can create a compelling and well-crafted story, where every character is fully fleshed out and the plot is coherent. Any inconsistencies or plot holes can easily break the reader’s immersion and spoil the suspense and tension the author has carefully built.

  1. Pay Attention to Detail

When editing suspense and thriller novels, attention to small details can make all the difference. Editors should focus on elements such as the timing of events, placement of clues, and consistency of character motivations. Although these details may appear insignificant, they are crucial in determining the story’s success, so it is vital to meticulously scrutinize them to guarantee the book’s overall success.

When editing a suspense or thriller novel, a deep understanding of the unique elements that define these genres is required. The editor’s primary responsibility is to manage the story’s pacing while keeping the tension high. Consistency is key, and paying close attention to even the smallest details is essential to help authors create compelling stories that keep readers engaged until the words—“the end.”


Katherine Hutchinson-Hayes, EdD, is a writer/content editor. She works for Iron Stream Media as a book coach/editor. She’s a sensitivity reader for Sensitivity Between the Lines and an editor/contributor for Inkspirations. She is the board’s vice chair for the 540 Writers community. Her writing has been published in Guideposts.