How to Add Suspense to Your Stories and Dramatically Improve Your Content

At a TED conference in 2008, music conductor Benjamin Zander talks about the story of Shakespeare’s well-known play, Hamlet.
In Act One, scene three, Hamlet finds out that his uncle killed his father. Now Hamlet must have his revenge.
As the play progresses, Hamlet almost kills his uncle, but pulls himself back. He has many opportunities to get rid of his uncle, but somehow doesn’t finish the job.
So, is Hamlet a procrastinator?
“No, otherwise the play would be over, stupid,” Zander says. “That’s why Shakespeare puts all that stuff in Hamlet — Ophelia going mad, the play within the play, Yorick’s skull, and the gravediggers. That’s in order to delay — until Act Five. Then, he can kill him.”
This is the power of suspense in storytelling: the end seems almost inevitable, but then there’s more — to keep the story going.
Let’s explore how this concept can dramatically improve your own storytelling and keep your audience completely focused on your content.
Suspense 101
In the video below, Zander explains how composers structure their music. They know the end point — and the notes they have to put in between the beginning and the end. Yet, they don’t quickly get to the end. Instead, they create suspense.
Zander demonstrates with Chopin’s Prelude, Op. 28, No. 4. in E Minor.

As Zander describes it:
“This is a piece which goes from away to home. I’m going to play it all the way through and you’re going to follow. B, C, B, C,

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