Thursday, February 9, 2012

Tension: The Author's Friend

Hey everyone, Annette here for another This-N-That Thursday. Thought I'd mix things up and focus on writing craft today.

In life we work to avoid tension. From family gatherings to relational stress, we fix underlying problems to reduce tension. Not so in story. You pull the plug on tension in your novel and your reader starts to yawn.

That said, there should be a balance. If you keep things tight as a length of taut floss, you’ll lose readers too. Suspense writers know this. There’s a balance of tension, escalation, release, repeat. Same’s true for other genres.

To the fiction author, tension is a valuable commodity. It’s tangible and vital. Handle with care. Here are some tips to keep in mind in regards to tension:

~ Don’t avoid it.

~ Don’t ease it too often or write scenes without it.

~ Don’t fix things for your hero/heroine.

~ Let your characters worry.

~ Let your characters suffer.

~ Rarely (if ever) should you release all the tension between your characters or from the plot (except at the end of the story when you tie up the loose ends. Of course, you don’t have to tie them into a perfect little bow.).

~ If you solve one problem have another lined up or already in place as a hook to retain readers’ attention. As the earlier problem resolves, escalate the second/secondary problem. Make things tense. Keep ‘em reading.

~ Leave arguments unresolved, at least for a while.

~ Embrace unforgiveness. At least for a while. ;) If your characters are forever letting each other off the hook, tension fizzles. Not only will readers not finish your book, they’ll likely not read your work again, and not recommend you to their friends.

As an author, tension is your friend. Dance with it. Embrace it. Use it. Your readers will love you for it.


  1. Wise words, Annette:) Tension is our friend, much as we hate to make our characters run the gauntlet, so to speak. Great thoughts. I needed them this morning. Happy (tense) writing to you!

  2. So true, Laura. Tension is often the answer to the question: what is wrong with this scene? Write on, Laura! :D

  3. Yummy tips today, Annette! Thanks for the reminders. :-D


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