Writing Advice

Why Tension Doesn’t Always Have to Mean Death

 ten·sion/ˈtenSHən/noun

1.the state of being stretched tight.”the parachute keeps the cable under tension as it drops”synonyms:tightness, tautness, rigidity

2.mental or emotional strain.”a mind that is affected by stress or tension cannot think as clearly”synonyms:strain, stress, anxiety, pressure

Whether you’re drafting your novel or in the final stages of editing, there are ALWAYS way you can create more tension. Tension is defined as the pressure or forward momentum a story has. Think of it as someone laying a card face down in front of you. 

What’s your very first temptation? Immediately, you want to flip it over, right? 

What happens if the person lays three cards face down? 

Then, imagine they flip one over but add two more?

This analogy demonstrates what readers experience as they journey through your story. Moments of revelation, (the card turning over) no matter how big or small, which when are quickly followed by another promise (the face down card). This pattern of promise and reveal provides your story an ongoing pressure, encouraging your readers to keep turning the page! (every author’s dream!)

Now, don’t get me wrong. The risk of death of a character or side-character is always a HIGHLY tense card to play. However, there are so many more ways to increase overall tension…

For example, consider the good old “ticking time clock” with or pressing deadlines (a big test or job interview) are also commonly used. But what about a side character with an obscure tattoo on their neck? Or burn scars on their face or an eye patch. Perhaps a character is pregnant and (heaven forbid) unmarried!! Give a character a mysterious limp, or accent. Heck, give them a dog! 

All of these ideas are akin to hidden cards being placed in front of your reader. As they’re stacked on top of each other, they build the tension, increasing the need to turn the page. 

Word of caution: It isn’t necessary for you to have to reveal ALL of your cards in the course of your novel. If they don’t directly pertain to the overall plot, go ahead and leave them un-turned, and leave it up to your reader to contemplate the answer…or use them in the sequel! 

I hope you found this post helpful! Feel free to comment below with ways you add tension to your novel!

  1. This is brilliant, Sarah Jane – so glad you’re persistence paid off. I’m in the query trenches now – my…

  2. Congratulations! I went over and checked the other post and was inspired by it as well. Wishing you all the…

  3. Your website looks beautiful! Can’t wait to read more!

  4. Susan on ABOUT

    Sarah Jane, how beautiful!!!

  5. Lenore Stutznegger on ABOUT

    Looks great! Can’t wait to get my hands on this book!