An investigation into literary suspense

Being suspenseful is an important aesthetic feature of literary narratives. Our project aims at understanding the textual basis of experiencing literary narratives as suspenseful.

Our main hypothesis is that the experience of suspense depends on the evocation of questions: A suspenseful text evokes particular polar questions that are deemed important by the reader and that subsequently get answered by the text – however, there is a certain delay, and this delay is where things are experienced as suspenseful.

We try to get a grip on the following: What questions are apt for creating suspense? How does a text delay answers to these questions? By what linguistic means does a text create the impression that particular polar questions rather than others are important?

We analyse and compare the linguistic structure and content of literary narratives, and we conduct experiments in order to measure how the experience of suspense varies depending on variations in the linguistic structure.