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Suspense is a key component of entertaining narratives. It is discussed in relation to narrative scenarios in which the character is placed in a charged situation with potential alternative outcomes. The term suspense can be approached in two ways: (i) it can refer to the suspense structure, which is the discourse structure of a narrative sequence containing an initiating event, outcome delay, and outcome event; (ii) it can denote felt suspense, which is the pattern of experience in the audience characterized by high intensity of apprehension, tension, fear, and hope, and increased attentional focus and predictive inference. Suspense structures present narrative events chronologically and often share more story information with the audience than with the character. Suspense structures can be found in various genres and modalities. Important antecedent conditions of felt suspense are a high degree of character engagement and significant outcome value. Empathy and counter‐empathy are important psychological processes channeling feelings during a suspense scene towards liked and disliked characters respectively. Outcome delay is an effective tool to build up tension during a suspense scene. The enjoyment of suspense has been explained by the need for escapism theory, the excitation transfer theory, and the social comparison theory. The level of felt suspense can be assessed by self‐report and psychophysiological measures.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe International Encyclopedia of Media Psychology
Number of pages5
ISBN (Electronic)9781119011071
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Publication series

NameICAZ - Wiley Blackwell-ICA International Encyclopedias of Communication Series


  • Suspense
  • Narratives
  • Affect


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