Two thoughts on suspense:
Raymond Carver -- “I think a little menace is fine to have in a story. For one thing, it's good for the circulation.”
Cynthia Ozick -- “One of the great conventions – and also one of the virtues – of the old novel was its suspensefulness. Suspense seems to make us ask 'What will happen to Tess next?' but really it emerges from the writer's conviction of social or cosmic principle. Suspense occurs when the reader is about to learn something, not simply about the relationship of fictional characters, but about the writer's relationship to a set of ideas, or to the universe. Suspense is the product of teaching, and teaching is the product of mastery, and mastery is the product of seriousness, and seriousness springs not from ego or ambition or the workings of the subjective self, but from the amazing permutations of the objective world.”
Carver suggests the excitingness of fiction is physiologically good for us, Ozick that it's beneficial on a higher level. In line with the art-is-useful hypothesis, we might guess that, by vicariously identifying with fictional characters who are making important moral choices, we get better at making important moral choices ourselves.
Is anyone investigating this possibility? I read in “The Economist” once of an experiment where undergraduates were given some money and the choice of keeping it or sharing it with the other participating subjects: most undergraduates opted to share the money, with the exception of those majoring in economics, who invariably kept all the money themselves. Idea for a possible experiment – do people who have just read “A Christmas Carol” behave in a less miserly fashion than students who have just read Atlas Shrugged?
Does perusal of Jane Austen change the way women behave on online dating sites?