My character is on a train that’s about to be hijacked. She notices strange things with the train like thudding on the roof but no one else seems to care. How can I convey that uneasy feeling you get when you feel like something bad is going to happen?

  • 3
    Does this answer your question? How do I write a room full of panic? Apr 7, 2023 at 20:25
  • 1
    Game of Thrones, Seasons 6, episode 10, when people in the temple realize that Cersei isn't going to show up for her trial, and so something is about to happen. Watch the actress who plays Margaery. Brilliant.
    – Boba Fit
    Apr 9, 2023 at 15:35
  • @Alexandrang I don't think this is a duplicate. Unease and panic are two different emotional states which require different writing techniques to convey.
    – Philipp
    Apr 11, 2023 at 10:27
  • @Philipp I was going to refer to my answer (the one that was selected as the correct answer for that question) and my solution was basically the same here. People mostly do not panic before the really bad thing happens (in this case a derail) but will be uneasy if they are familiar enough with the route and the train operation to know something is off. Many documentaries about disasters of this type often have survivors discussing their instinctual awareness of something not behaving right.
    – hszmv
    Jun 13, 2023 at 18:25
  • I'd do some homework... there has never been a documented case of a train hijacking or robbery where the people disrupting the train boarded while the train is in motion. Typically, during the Wild West days when Train Robberies were in a Golden Age, the would-be robbers boarded the train at the station and pulled the heist at a pre-arranged location out in the wilderness. Almost certainly, they would work to stop the train before they got to far from the location where they stashed their horses to make a get away.
    – hszmv
    Jun 13, 2023 at 18:29

5 Answers 5


I think you are already off to a good start. The viewpoint character notices something and no one else seems to react to the strangeness.

How that character reacts depends on their personality. If the character is very self-assured, they might rely solely on their senses to decide what to do -- wait and see if the sound repeats then warn everyone or move to protect themselves. You know take some sort of confident and alert action.

Other personality types might look to the other passengers -- as you are kind of describing. That leads to a conflict within the character -- are they imagining things? Are other people hearing the same things the character is? Self-doubt has a unique feeling that could be exploited here.

Another way to go might be with the character's conflict be rooted in the perceived risk of embarrassment -- crying wolf and being wrong.

They might also feel some measure of fear or anxiety -- with goose bumps or the hairs on their necks standing up.

How you describe the character's reactions is dependent on the character traits. Identify how your character is, then you'll find it easier to work out how they react in the stressful situations you are putting them in to.


One way to generate unease is by asking a lot of questions in internal monologue and then leaving them unanswered.

Why does that work? How does the human psyche react to questions? Is it the tension of expecting an answer and then not receiving one? Would it help to pile more and more questions on top without ever giving the relieve of an answer? Does the reader perhaps imagine how a question is phrased in natural language, causing them to imagine how the voice raises at the end generating tension? Or is it how phrasing unanswered questions highlight all the crucial information the protagonist is lacking? Do we know that? Can we know that?

Don't you just hate the stress generated by missing crucial information? Maybe the last question didn't work in this context? Perhaps because it was clearly rhetorical and not pointing out information you are actually lacking?

Can the tension be increased even more if the viewpoint character themselves starts to question what they believe to hear and see? Am I just imagining that this technique works? Am I turning insane? Am I perhaps already insane?

We will probably never know. Until it is too late.


There's already some good answers that talk about how to use internal thoughts to build tension.

Also, think about the words you use in description and the background to subtly give the reader cues. (think the famous 'storm scene' in Julius Caesar)

E.g. compare these: (written quickly, so please don't judge the quality of the prose itself!)

"Rain lashed against the window as the train lurched through the darkening moor."

"The sun shone brightly over the rolling, green hills as the train cruised past the white dots of sheep."

They're both descriptions of travelling through the countryside on a train, but you'd associate them with very different genres or types of story. Even the sounds of words can create a certain atmosphere - e.g. the way harsh or discordant tones create anxiety in the same way as horror music. Or vice-versa.

Or, you could turn it on it's head, and describe a very tranquil setting but with subtle hints that all is not well. A sunny day, with a dark cloud on the horizon. Or a bright afternoon, but with unusually gusty wind.


Show physical symptoms of uneasiness. Here are some quick examples I came up with: "A bead of sweat dropped onto their shirt", "Fidgeting with a bracelet", "Nervously shifting their eyes around the small room", "Heart rate increasing", "Felt a knot in their stomach".

You could also tell the reader that the character "has a bad feeling", but that doesn't add much to a story.


I would personally create the unease on the environment. Describe the environment the best you can but do it in a creepy way. Also, if you are involving people around the protagonist who are sketchy, make sure they look and sound that way. If that still does not create unease, put thoughts to the character too, convey what the character is feeling by internal monologue.

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