Thursday, June 25, 2015


Tension is the essence of any story.  A tale where no one gets heated and there is no tension is...boring.  Anyone can sit around on the couch and get along with everybody else, all while singing about unicorns and lollipops.  However, no one wants to read about it.

So how do we ramp up the tension in our stories?  First, by remembering that everyone has his or her own unique personality, and those personalities sometimes clash.  Perhaps your story could have the two main protagonists who are forced to work together have some kind of challenging detail from their past.  Maybe one is now dating the other's ex.  Or perhaps there was a bad business deal that caused both to lose a great deal of money.

Of course, that's all backstory.  The practicalities of tension are what you need if you're going to let the reader feel it.  Some of this can be done through dialogue:

"Gondolsky masterminded the crime.  I just know it."

"But we don't have any camera footage.  We can't prove it."

"I didn't have camera footage of you banging my girl behind my back, but that didn't stop it from being true."

Or maybe a character is trying to keep a secret that would alter the relationship and is sweating about it.  You could write about an inner monologue where he or she is wrestling with that guilt and is on the verge of telling.  Maybe the character is of two minds, so you have to bring that out.

Tension also comes from action and uncertainty.  Simple tension is easy - there's a car chase near a cliff where one wrong turn would leave the characters dead at the bottom of a ravine.  Complex tension, on the other hand, is much harder...say, the car in the above chase crashes and the main character can only rescue either his wife or his daughter and must decide.  Bring a devil's bargain into it and things go to a whole new level.

Find what tension your audience can live with.  Experiment.  Picture it and gauge how you feel.  Only then can you bring it out and put your readers on the edge of their seat.

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