Without tension, a novel is boring. It’s what hooks the reader, and what makes them select your book from hundreds of others on the shelf.
Tension can take many forms.
- The ticking clock – a time limit presents automatic pressure. If your character has to reach her goal by a certain time or assent to failure, the stakes are raised from the beginning of the story.
- Emotional tension will cause embarrassment if the task is not completed on time. Impending danger, harm will come to the character or someone important to them when the time is up.
- Dialogue - the way you craft conversations between characters can elevate the tension in subtle or overt ways.
- Pacing – well-written fiction ebbs and flows. Each time your character hits a crisis point the story speeds up. Once the crisis is solved, it takes on a more leisurely pace giving the protagonist and reader a breather.
- Sentence structure – short choppy sentences with active verbs signal tension. Long, meandering sentences filled with adjectives and adverbs imply a relaxed pace. Varying the format of the text will add tension to key moments in a scene.
- Sexual tension exacerbates conflict – it contributes to the mystery. Is this person a friend or the enemy? It complicates the plot – there’s nothing simple about falling in love. Sexual tension makes your characters vulnerable – they want, they fear, they need. As the danger mounts, so does desire. As your hero and heroine’s future becomes more uncertain, the need for personal connection becomes paramount. The release of sexual tension also makes a great ‘breather’ for the reader right before the final dramatic twist in the plot.
Next week I'll be discussing backstory, suspense and foreshadowing.