A-Z Challenge: T is for Tension

Posted 23rd April 2011 by Anstice in Blog Fests & Hops, Creative Writing / 🗨0 Comments

Today I’m continuing with the A-Z Blogging Challenge. I’m doing an A-Z of human emotions, feelings and mental states and today is the letter T and so I’m writing about Tension.

Tension is something we writers are always trying to create in our novels. Without tension many readers would get bored and put the book down as tension is the driving force that keeps them wanting to know what happens next. But how do you create tension in your writing without describing the atmosphere as tense?

  • Focus on describing sensations such as the heart pumping, quick breathing, prickling scalp, sweaty palms, dry mouth etc and also on character movements eg. fluttering hands, racing instead of walking, shaking etc.
  • You increase tension by shortening your words and sentences. Long sentences create a more relaxed mood, while short choppy ones make the scene more suspenseful.
  • Don’t keep things tense for too long though. It’s better to have a mix of high tension and low tension scenes. A calm, relaxed scene right before a really tense thing will come as a suprise to the reader, then follow it again with another calm scene to give your reader some ‘downtime’.
  • Try slowing down the action as if it is a slow motion scene underwater. This is useful for describing an imminent dangerous situation that your hero must stop just in time. It’s a technique that should be used sparingly though as you don’t want to slow down the pace for too long.
  • Show that characters are running out of time by having them frequently check their watch or see that the sun is going down, or have other characters ring them and put them under pressure to be somewhere on time. Then put lots of obstacles in their way like traffic jams and losing things they need.
  • Infuse the story with atmosphere by using a setting that reflects the tension eg. a really small room or a spooky wood with twisted branches. Focus on the sights eg. darkness and sounds eg.birds calling to create an eerie feel.
  • Include a ‘hook’-an unanswered question or mystery that the reader will want to find out about in the very first paragraph. Include what the character’s main problem in the story is.
  • Avoid passive writng and info dumps that just describe the setting or what’s going on. Instead show the characters doing things and include lots of dialogue.
  • Make your danger believable. Whatever the risk to your main character eg. physical or psychological it should be something that really matters to him-enough for him to fight against it. Make sure the stakes are high eg. he might lose everything.
  • Try ending chapters or scenes on a cliffhanger or leave them with an unanswered question so that readers will want to know what happens next. 

Do you have any tips on how you create tension in your writing?

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