The other day I was reading and found myself skimming more than I’d like. Then I did it. I fell asleep. Not good.
I enjoyed the characters, and the story line was intriguing. But nothing was compelling me to turn the pages to see what would happen next. So what was wrong? A lack of believable tension.
What do I mean by that? Problems that “up” the stakes for the characters, tighter and tighter as the story unfolds.
Here are some tips!
Rachell Seller, in this piece on tightening tension for Writers Digest (March 2013), says to add emotion, limit back-story and (my favorite), “say ‘no’ to your characters.
The best conflict is one that appears unsolvable, so heap difficult situations on your characters and make them prove their mettle.
In this March 2015 “Two Minute Writing Tip,” award-winning author and editor Alicia Dean agrees. To keep the pages turning, torture your characters.
A good way to escalate the tension as you’re planning your scenes is to add ‘but even worse…’ at the end of each scene/scene note.
Finally, Laura Backes writes about children’s literature at Writes4Kids. But in this AbsoluteWrite piece from 2002, her suggestions for upping the tension by incorporating the following elements can be applied to any piece of fiction:
- A ticking clock (deadline for some action to take place…or else)
- Effective dialogue
- Strategic pacing
- Varied sentence structure.
Well written fiction has ebbs and flows to the pacing of the story. Each time your character hits a crisis point, the pacing speeds up. Once that crisis is solved, the story can take on a more leisurely pace, giving your protagonist (and the reader) a brief break.
After spending her life working with words in various roles in both government and the private sector, including a 10-year stint as a freelance line editor, lifelong grammar fanatic Leah Price is excited about putting her skills and knowledge to work as author liaison for Edward Allen Publishing. She also writes commercial fiction under a pseudonym and knows how tough it is to get all the pieces in the story puzzle to fit, but she loves the journey.