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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Crafting Corner—Tension. Don’t leave home without it!


I try and learn as much as I can from the books I read—even the terrible ones. One thing I’ve noticed about the bad published books I’ve read lately is there is a lack of tension.

Tension is an ABSOLUTE must!!! I think the more the better. So what can you do to add more or fix the tension you have?

What to do:
  • Big tension. Have overarching tension, a problem that starts at the beginning of the books and follows the characters around like a black cloud. This tension will only be resolved at the end of the book. 
  • Small tension. Tension should peak and resolve over and over. Small bits of changing tension will push people to read your story. 
  • Use setting. The emotion of a place can really increase the emotion in your character. Cut off escape routes and narrow options. 
  • Add potential threats. Potential sometimes has more power than actuality. What could go wrong? Play that up! 
  • Put your characters in danger. Physical danger. Emotional danger. Psychological danger. But don’t forget to have them react! 
  • Choices. Force your characters to make impossible choices. Choices between people. Choices that are all terrible. 

What NOT to do: 
  • Don’t rely on the overarching tension to carry the story. It will always be there, but it is usually not enough. 
  • Don’t undermine your tension. If the situation is scary don’t have your characters making out :) Character reactions add to the tension. Use them. 
  • Long lyrical sentences and paragraphs don’t really add tension. They take time to read and understand. Keep it short and simple. Faster reads speed up tension. 

I hope that helps a little. Tell me what has helped you to add more tension to your stories.

-Angie 

26 comments:

Jackie said...

I agree. A book needs tension or it falls flat.
Tension isn't fun for my characters, but I love writing those scenes! Lol

Kyra Lennon said...

Sexual tension is the key in my current WIP, but your tips are giving me some good ideas to find other ways to use tension! :D

Meredith said...

So, so true! If there isn't some kind of tension, it's hard for me to be interested in the story. But it can't carry the story, either. Great advice!

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

I definitely agree re shorter sentences. Since I tend to write longer sentences normally, I pay extra attention to that when I'm writing action/tense scenes - the shorter and punchier the sentences are, the faster the pace, the higher the tension rises.

Tobi Summers said...

This is an issue I constantly struggle with. I love my characters. I don't want to hurt them, and I don't want them to suffer, which means I cut my tension the minute I introduce it so as to mitigate the effects. I know I do it, so it's something I pay particular attention to during edits.

elizabeth seckman said...

Great lesson. This writing stuff is way more complicated than it looks.

K.S. Lewis said...

So true. I have a hard time, sometimes, not adding longer sentences during scenes like this, but tension is key in keeping things engaging.

Neurotic Workaholic said...

I totally agree. I once read a chick lit book that I really didn't like very much because there was very little tension; all the conflicts between the characters were resolved too quickly, because they loved each other so much. Love is definitely essential in a chick lit book, of course, but not if it ends up reading like a 21st century episode of The Brady Bunch or Donna Reed.
One thing I've done to create more tension is by creating characters who are very different from each other and/or want different things; that way they're more likely to disagree with each other.

ilima said...

I've been thinking about this big time as I draft my current WIP. Now as I scroll through the pages, I think-ooh, this is my favorite part-in every chapter and almost every page. It really does make the world of difference.

Cassie Mae said...

I love books that make me gasp a whole bunch throughout. Tension baby, tension :)

Ruth Josse said...

Great points! I'm reading a book right now where the tension could totally be there but isn't. I think it's because the two love interests got together too soon. Anticipation is everything! And the danger they are thrown into doesn't feel believable. If she would just open her stupid mouth then everything would work out.

Johanna Garth said...

Those are all good points and the reason that I just scrapped two chapters in the WIP, no tension and doing nothing for the story line.

Jolene Perry said...

FAB job. You just pretty much summed up everything I"ve learned about tension :-D

Emily R. King said...

Gotta love tension, especially in romance. Will he kiss her? Will she kiss him? Does he love her? Does she love him? Ah, it's wonderful. : )

Linda Jackson said...

Angela, you are right on target. I have been half-reading The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt since...forever. I love the book, love the MC, love the plot. But the book lacks tension. There is no sense of urgency, so I am in no hurry to reach the end. I pick it up and read it when I have nothing else to read. I enjoy it. But when I get a book that's more interesting, I put it down. I'll probably finish it over the summer. :)

Donna K. Weaver said...

Yes, that tension/conflict is vital. While in real life we might like those nice quiet, peaceful times, but in a book--unless that scene moves the story forward--it better include some conflict.

K.V. Briar said...

Well said! I agree with every one of your points! Tension is soooo important. I'm guilty of putting down a book if the tension isn't there. Crafting tension can be challenging, but it's also one of my favorite things to tackle. Tension adds so much to the urgency of the novel and can make your words so much more dynamic.

Sherry Isaac said...

Hi Angie,
No matter how bad things get for my characters, there is always some way to make things worse, even a small thing can add one more complication, the last straw doesn't have to be a big straw. And, adding a twist, taking characters in an unexpected direction, always keeps things interesting, for me, and hopefully, my readers.

Nick Wilford said...

Fast pace is good, but if it's constant it can leave the reader burnt out. Have slow sections of build up too that let them guess what might be coming. Of course it's good if what happens isn't what they expect. Still working on that!

Stacy Henrie said...

Great suggestions! Definitely need tension throughout. In romances, I love the misunderstandings between the hero and heroine. That can cause all sorts of tension. :)

McKenzie McCann said...

I love this advice. It's so simple and basic, but can add so much to a scene.

I've recently become a tension junky, so this was a perfect post for me today. I'm a fan of useless tension, those small annoyances we all have but never give much thought to. It adds more to a scene than you might think.

Jessie Humphries said...

I need to do just a tension-revision on my ms. Go in and add a few more small tensions. (that makes no sense...but u know what I mean!)

Leigh Covington said...

I've noticed in a recent read that TMI is a downer for tension. I don't care what the name of the song is that you're dancing too! Get on with the story. Ugh. I learn a lot from the books I read too. There is always something you can learn. And your tips are fabulous as always!

Kelley said...

Hmmm...did you take the notes from the critique you gave me and post them here?? haha :)

You are so right though! My story is so much better after you went at it :)

TENSION!!! :)

Shiela Calderón Blankemeier said...

Great advice - thank you so much for the tips! When things seem to be going too easy for my characters, I shoot them, usually with an arrow :)

Sarah Pearson said...

I'm struggling a bit with this at the moment. I'm revising a crime thriller, the first time I've tried to write in this genre. Your point about setting has made me realise that's an avenue I haven't explored.

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