Creating Tension – Part 1

Tension1So I was having a discussion with one of my critique partners and the subject of tension came up. Yes, that all-important but often times elusive friend of writers – Tension. No problem you say. I’ll just rewrite every scene to have bullets flying overhead as the two brooding love interests share a long smoldering look as they dangle on a fraying rope hanging above a boiling vat of lava.

Hmmmm…actually I think I might use that one. <<give me a second. I just need to make a quick note over here….aaaannndd got it.>>

Ok, so obviously tension doesn’t always have to be quite so…obvious. But you always want to work tension into your writing. Make it a conscious decision to create tension on the page. This doesn’t have to be the over-the-top bullets and lava stuff, but there has to be something to keep that oh-so-fickle reader interested.

In case you’ve been asleep for the last two or three decades, the number of gadgets vying for our attention has skyrocketed lately. Readers have so many other things they could invest their time and attention in, that we (as writers) have to be sure we don’t give them any excuse to set our little story down. Because if they do sit it down, then there is only one person to blame…the author. Well, that and whoever the mad genius is that came up with those cute little singing internet cats. Hold on, I gotta go see that again.

<< two hours later>>   Ok, sorry. I’m good now.

See! Did you see what just happened? The internet forced me to watch singing cats. Seriously, how are us poor writers supposed to compete with that? I mean their cats. And they sing!

The answer, of course, is we use our secret weapon. No, not singing dogs. We use tension to keep those readers invested in our story and away from the evil internet thingy and the giant TV box of obliviousness and the phone of way-more-apps-than-I-can-even-count.

Just remember, the tension doesn’t need to be over-the-top. This could be as simple as building tension for what’s behind an unopened door. Or the MC pondering whether she should cheat on the big exam, knowing there’s no way she can get caught. Or the tiny lie one of the secondary characters told (Why did he tell that lie – what’s he hiding?)

One thing you may notice about the examples above is they all involve creating a sense of the unknown (or as us humans like to say – a question). That’s mostly what tension is. It’s a question about what’s going to happen next. And fortunately for us writers, it’s human nature to want to know the answer. If we can keep the questions interesting, the readers will hang out with us.

uncertainty1

So as you’re writing a scene, try to think of how you can invite the reader in to spend a few hours with your story. It’s really not that different than when you sit down with a friend and start a conversation. It usually begins something like “You’ll never believe what happened to me last weekend.”

There you have it: an instant question. We’ve told our listener that something unbelievable happened last weekend. Guess what? Now they want to know details. We got them interested in hearing our story by throwing that little teaser out there. We need to have the same mindset in our writing. Otherwise, our readers are going back to watching those soulless singing web felines.

Well that’s it for Part 1 of my discussion on Creating Tension. Look here for Part 2 where I talk more about ways to create tension.

Feel free to comment. Always love to hear from you all.

All the best,
JD.

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