Set your character in a race against the clock. Not only must she solve the problem and overcome an obstacle to achieve her goal, she must do it within a certain time frame—with serious consequences if she fails to meet the deadline.
In action movies, the ticking bomb is frequently an actual explosive device. Sometimes the villains kindly provide a digital readout, pressuring the heroes by letting them count down the minutes until the device detonates. Your "bomb" doesn't have to be destructive in this literal way. The protagonist's deadline could be the starting time of the meeting that will be crucial to her career, or the day of her wedding, or the night of the high school reunion, or the moment when the airplane arrives with her daughter on board.
To make things even more harrowing, keep your protagonist from knowing exactly when the deadline is. The detective must find the murderer before he strikes again—but will that be next week, or in the next hour?
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