What is the difference between suspense and surprise?

Expert Answers
litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Suspense is the feeling you get when you know something exciting is happening or about to happen, while surprise is the feeling you get after it has happened.

When something spooky is happening in a story, you often experience a feeling of expectation or impending doom.  Something is about to happen—perhaps something bad.  When something happens that you do not expect, that thing is a surprise.

Let’s consider a book or story where the author has dropped several hints.  Everything seems to be leading up to one point.  That point is the climax—the turning point—and the hints are known as foreshadowing.  Foreshadowing creates suspense.

For a real surprise, there will be no suspense.  Everything is great—and then all of the sudden it isn’t, with no warning.  However, a surprise can be part of the suspense if the surprise itself leads to more interesting things happen or foreshadows interesting things.

Consider Lady Macbeth’s suicide in Macbeth.  I would consider the sleepwalking a suspenseful surprise.  Although bad things are happening, we really have not seen or heard from her until we see her sleepwalking.  The sleepwalking surprises us because she seemed really gung-ho about the murder in the beginning.

When you durst do it, then you were a man;(55)

And, to be more than what you were, you would

Be so much more the man. (Act 1, Scene 7)

She is bloodthirsty, and pushing him on.  Yet by the end of the play, she seems wracked with guilt.

Out, damned spot! Out, I say! One–two—

why then ’tis time to do't. Hell is murky. Fie, my lord, fie! (Act 5, Scene 1)

Her sleepwalking therefore is a surprise, and her death creates more suspense because things are going really badly for Macbeth.

laurto | Student

Suspense is a state of excited or anxious uncertainty about what may happen. It is a quality in a work of fiction that arouses excited expectation or uncertainty. Surprise is an unexpected or astonishing event, fact, or thing or something unexpected that causes astonishment. 

ds6 | Student

my teacher ask me to make an essay about such topic.. still i dont have ideas on how to start it.. since im making an essay comparing the two... thanks for answering...


my teacher's hint was expectations of the readers