Here is another post in my WRITERLY WISDOM series I first ran back in 2013. Six years later, I’ve updated the material and made sure it still applies to today’s writers. This week we learn about building tension between our characters from my friend, Nicole Zoltack…
by Nicole Zoltack
Tension is such an important part of writing. The greater the tension, the higher the stakes, the faster a reader will turn pages and the greater the chance that a reader will be so gripped and caught up in your story, they’ll read it all in one sitting!
So how do you build tension in your story?
Pacing and Action –
Pacing and tension go hand in hand. Pacing revs up during a conflict and then slows down after it’s resolved until the next conflict point. As the story continues on, the slowing down period shortens as tension ramps up as the climax nears. During action, high-paced scenes, use shorter sentences and sparingly use adjectives and adverbs. Shorter sentences heighten paces and increases tension. Choose heavy duty action verbs. Moving the story along at a faster pace with action helps to build tension.
A ticking clock –
A deadline, a race against the clock, is a strong way to heighten tension. Any time a goal has to be reached by a set amount of time, the tension is automatically raised. Drama, suspense, tension—all results from a ticking clock. If a serial killer is taunting the police, leaving them clues as to who they are going to kill next, promising they will kill again and again, the police officers are going to be scrambling to locate the murderer before he can kill again. Talk about tension! Especially if the clues point to a family member of a police officer, or even a police officer himself.
Increasing the stakes build tension. If your character’s sister is kidnapped, there is plenty of conflict. If the ransom call comes in and demands more money than they could ever afford, the stakes are raised. If they rob a bank to get the money and are caught, the stakes are even higher because now they have to elude the police and still find a way to get the money. And if their brother is then kidnapped… Stakes can be built upon to build tension throughout the story.
Make it as hard as possible for the main character to reach their goal. Block them at every turn. If the reader fears the character will not succeed, the tension will be sky high. The bleaker the outlook for the character, the more the tension. Going back to the ransom story, if the main character is the next one to be kidnapped, but by different people than the ones who have his siblings, that is a huge obstacle for the main character to overcome.
All stories need different levels of tension. A suspenseful mystery will need a ton of tension. A romantic comedy, not quite as much. Determine the level of tension that is correct for your story and then add that amount of tension through pacing action, timing, stakes, and obstacles. Tension is a wonderful tool in a writer’s arsenal. Do not overlook it.
Nicole been writing since she first learned how to write. Her mom used to sit her sister and her down at the kitchen table with paper and pencils, and they would created their first stories.
Nicole’s first stories were short and terrible! She started her first novel in the sixth grade – literally writing it during class. It took her ten years working on and off to finish that story. It’s currently collecting cyber dust.
During college, she learned about NanoWrimo. During one time, Nicole wrote WOMAN OF HONOR. Originally intended to be a historical romance novel, it morphed and grew and became medieval fantasy romance and a trilogy to boot.
WOMAN OF HONOR is currently not available for sale as the publisher closed its doors, but Nicole plans to reedit the story. She’s grown a lot as a writer since the story was first published!
Since then, Nicole has written and published paranormal romances (superheroes and vampires and witches), historicals (mostly regencies), time travels, and epic and urban fantasies. She will never stop writing!
You can find out more about Nicole at her website, www.nicolezoltack.com.