A Heartbeat At A Time

Kathryn J. Bain is an award-winning author of Christian, mystery, and suspense, including the Lincolnville Mystery series and KT Morgan short suspense series.

Ms. Bain has garnered several awards, including a First Place for Short Suspense in the IDA (Independent Digital Awards), two Heart of Excellence Readers’ Choice Awards and a First Place Royal Palm Literary Award for Inspirational Fiction.

A past President of Florida Sisters in Crime and Public Relations Director for Ancient City Romance Authors, Kathryn enjoys doing talks and teaching about writing.

Kathryn has also been a paralegal for over twenty years and works for an attorney who specializes in elder law. 


Readers love a good suspense book. There’s nothing like feeling your heart in your throat wondering what will happen next.

In order for a book to be considered suspense, someone has to be in peril. By the end of the book, that person should be the protagonist or someone close to him or her. There should be a buildup of danger page by page.

There’s nothing I like better than to get my own heart racing with something I’ve written.

In my award-winning short suspense, Small Town Terror, three killers are driving from Virginia to Florida. It just so happens they plan to stop in a small town in North Carolina where the protagonist’s car breaks down. In this small town is also a pregnant woman who is getting ready for her baby to be born. She’s decorating the nursery, unaware of any danger. The killers are kidnapping people in small towns and holding them for ransom. Ruger, the antagonist in the story, knows that small town people will pay anything to not lose one of their own.

Unfortunately, a lot of authors don’t seem to know how to keep the suspense going throughout their book, so they resort to describing a slow kill instead. By the time the killer has his victim, the suspense is really over. It’s the steps that lead to the capture that gets the heart racing, not the murder or torture scene.

Doing a good build up is hard. Even New York Times’ authors don’t always accomplish this. But if a writer can get his own pulse ratcheted up, the reader’s pulse rate will increase as well.

A good way to do this is with a countdown. A ticking bomb. A person who is buried alive and about to run out of oxygen. In my short suspense The Visitor, the killer watches his victims for a month from their walk-in closet. I purposely put dates in each section to help build suspense. The reader knew that by the end of the month there would be a confrontation between the killer and one or both of the women in the house.

Psychological suspense is a great way to get a reader’s pulse racing. Often, their mind can add more fear than anything an author puts on the page.

If the capture of the victim is done too quickly, there is not much in the way of sweaty palms for the reader. In any good suspense book, the murder should always be shorter than the lead up to the capture.

Another way I heighten suspense is with my killer’s point of view. A lot of authors make the mistake of having their killer think about how great the knife will be against her skin. We know he plans to kill them, so it adds nothing to the suspense. I prefer making my killers creepy. He wonders about the softness of her hair. He recalls how the soon-to-be victim smells of jasmine, his mother’s favorite perfume.

A good suspense book is where the killer is the cat and the victim the mouse. He toys with her until it’s time to end the chase.

Alfred Hitchcock was an expert at the buildup. The act of killing was always minimal compared to the lead-in. Remember the first time you watched “Psycho” and the scene came on with the investigator looking for Norman Bates? The entire scene where the private investigator begins his walk up to the house takes a good three to four minutes. I don’t know about you, but I was on the edge of my seat as he climbed that staircase one step at a time. Once Mother ran out of the room, I was about to leap out of my chair.

There is nothing better than a heart-racing suspense book. It gets your blood flowing. One warning; it is not always a good idea to read them at night. The last thing you want is to try to sleep with one eye closed and the other on your walk-in closet.

4 thoughts on “A Heartbeat At A Time

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