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  • J. J. Hanna

How to Write A Suspense Novel: Motives for the Protagonist's Involvement

Updated: Oct 18, 2021

This is the fourth and final week of a blog series about how to write suspense novels. In the past few weeks I focused on each of the aspects below in the "what you'll need" section.

What you'll need:

This week I'll be discussing options for your main character to be involved and why it's important to have a really good reason for them to be involved.

We'll start with the options:

Have the antagonist directly attack the protagonist. This makes it personal from the start and can cultivate a revenge mentality in your protagonist.

Have the antagonist attack someone the protagonist loves (i.e. part of their family). Again, this is another way cultivate a revenge mentality in your protagonist, but it can be viewed as a righteous type of revenge. This is still a somewhat personal attack, which makes it credible that the protagonist would feel the need to retaliate.

Have the protagonist be assigned to the antagonist's case. In this version of the story, the pairing is a somewhat random event by the higher-ups in the protagonist's life. This works especially well if you have a protagonist who is a government agent or private investigator for a corporation they're not the CEO of.

Have the antagonist be someone from the protagonist's past. If they already know each other, it makes sense for the protagonist to be looped in on the investigation. After all, the protagonist can then bring insight to the table that other detectives wouldn't necessarily have access to.

Make the antagonist and protagonist old rivals. Again, this plays on the last option, however it adds a layer of complexity to the relationship since the protagonist and antagonist now have solid reason to want to take each other out.

Connect the antagonist and protagonist through their parents. If both parties are trying to defend their family's honor, and both parties feel attacked by the other, this is a good way to make it personal for the protagonist. Perhaps the antagonist isn't angry about something the protagonist did directly, but instead is angry about something the protagonist's mother did and then swept under the rug.

Have the antagonist be the enemy of one of the protagonist's friends. This allows the protagonist to keep the professional touch required to continue chasing the antagonist while also giving them the drive to not give up the chase.

Why is this so important? Why can't the characters just be thrown together?

Simply put, if the antagonist is doing their job right, the protagonist's life has become a version of hell. It's not pleasant, people are dying, and to some extent, the protagonist must feel as if it is their fault for not stopping the antagonist soon enough.

No one, without a solid motivation, would go through that torture.

If the antagonist's demands can be met in a simple, straightforward way, there's no reason for the protagonist to fight them.

If the protagonist simply doesn't care about the thing the antagonist is threatening, and isn't being paid to care because of their profession, they have no reason to stop the threat.

By making the antagonist's crusade a personal connection to the protagonist, it hooks the protagonist into the cat and mouse game. They have to play or something they care about will be destroyed.

I hope this helps you as you create your suspense novels! What topics would you find helpful for me to cover in the future? Would you like breakdowns like this for the other suspense genres (Thrillers, Mystery, Crime)?

Let me know in the comments, on social media, or by reaching out on the contact page. I'd love to hear from you!


J. J. Hanna is a Professional Writing major at Taylor University. In her spare time she creates YouTube Videos and Comics, and practices Karate at a local dojo. If you have a writing question, she'd love to hear from you! She is also looking for freelancing work, so if you have editing, beta reading, or writing needs, or would simply like to chat in a consultation, please let her know. Like what you see and want to get more content like this, or have your specific questions answered? Check out how you can support her on Patreon for as little as $3 a month.


This week's YouTube video was about commonly misspelled and confused words. Check it out:

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