Friday, February 24, 2012

3 ways to build tension in writing

Tension is one thing I've struggled with in writing. After a little time and a lot of mistakes, I've come across some ways to build it. (special shout to my critique partner, Laura).

1. Give your character something to lose. Any decision they make will cost something, whether it's their reputation, a friendship, a vision of how they saw themselves, etc.

2. Ask yourself, what could go wrong for him or her? When things are going along smoothly, how can you create a twist in the journey? Can you give her a time crunch?

3. Have conflict attacking the protagonist from several directions. I had my protagonist's bad decision affecting her relationship with all the important people in her life but for different reasons. Each character has different motivations and it's the conflict of those that can lead to tension.

15 comments:

  1. I love writing about tension between characters. You can show it in their dialogue, and their body language. Love those awkward literary moments!

    PS - thanks for following my blog :-)

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  2. Nice tips! It's funny how it's so easy to want to protect our characters, but our books are so much better when we don't! My writing mentor used to often ask me, "How can you up the stakes?"

    Thanks for visiting my blog! I'm glad I found yours, too! It's so cool that you're writing AND in med school. Have you seen Lydia Kang's blog? It's great, and she brings so much info from medicine to her writing.

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  3. Great great great tips, Saumya! Tension can be a difficult element to work in. From what I read it was looking good and I'm sure your revisions are excellent, too!

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  4. Too much tension can be stressful on the reader. I say create a balance.

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  5. I attacked my main character from several angles in my second book. And admit I enjoyed doing it.

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  6. These are all excellent tips! I do the second one the most. I put my characters in a situation and think, "what else could go wrong here?" or "what's the worst that can happen?" and then write it.

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  7. Excellent advice! I love coming at my characters with trouble from all angles.

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  8. Great advice lovely lady! : )
    I need to add some conflict to a few of my characters, for sure!

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  9. This is a weakness of mine. I had to toss a previous ms because my characters kept getting themselves out of trouble so easily. I'm getting better at it! :)

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  10. Many of my characters never make it out of the situation I have set for them as they are in short horror stories.

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  11. Great tips! Tension is what keeps the reader driving through.

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  12. That third one is esp. intriguing. I may have to intentionally sit and down and think out some conflict coming from multiple directions.

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  13. Great tips, Saumya! I do think, though, that sometimes having conflict coming from many directions can backfire and each conflict somehow ends up seeming less meaningful.

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  14. Love this post! Another way to build tension in a scene is to speed up the pace and "trim" the dialogue to make it sharper, more abrupt. Although I think there needs to be some context at some point right before the heightened tension so that the magnitude of the characters' potential loss is portrayed accurately.

    ~TRA

    The Red Angel Blog

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