It's time once again for WRITERLY WISDOM where every Wednesday we will sneak a peek into the world of writing and publication. I have know my next guest author for about three years now and followed her writing journey with eagerness. I know she knows all about writing tension in her stories and now we get to learn from her writerly wisdom. Take it away Nicole...
by Nicole Zoltack
Tension is such an important part of writing. The greater the tension, the higher the stakes, the faster a reader will turn pages and the greater the chance that a reader will be so gripped and caught up in your story, they’ll read it all in one sitting!
So how do you build tension in your story?
Pacing and Action – Pacing and tension go hand in hand. Pacing revs up during a conflict and then slows down after it’s resolved until the next conflict point. As the story continues on, the slowing down period shortens as tension ramps up as the climax nears. During action, high-paced scenes, use shorter sentences and sparingly use adjectives and adverbs. Shorter sentences heighten paces and increases tension. Choose heavy duty action verbs. Moving the story along at a faster pace with action helps to build tension.
A ticking clock – A deadline, a race against the clock, is a strong way to heighten tension. Any time a goal has to be reached by a set amount of time, the tension is automatically raised. Drama, suspense, tension—all results from a ticking clock. If a serial killer is taunting the police, leaving them clues as to who they are going to kill next, promising they will kill again and again, the police officers are going to be scrambling to locate the murderer before he can kill again. Talk about tension! Especially if the clues point to a family member of a police officer, or even a police officer himself.
Stakes – Increasing the stakes build tension. If your character’s sister is kidnapped, there is plenty of conflict. If the ransom call comes in and demands more money than they could ever afford, the stakes are raised. If they rob a bank to get the money and are caught, the stakes are even higher because now they have to elude the police and still find a way to get the money. And if their brother is then kidnapped… Stakes can be built upon to build tension throughout the story.
Obstacles – Make it as hard as possible for the main character to reach their goal. Block them at every turn. If the reader fears the character will not succeed, the tension will be sky high. The bleaker the outlook for the character, the more the tension. Going back to the ransom story, if the main character is the next one to be kidnapped, but by different people than the ones who have his siblings, that is a huge obstacle for the main character to overcome.
All stories need different levels of tension. A suspenseful mystery will need a ton of tension. A romantic comedy, not quite as much. Determine the level of tension that is correct for your story and then add that amount of tension through pacing action, timing, stakes, and obstacles. Tension is a wonderful tool in a writer’s arsenal. Do not overlook it.
Nicole Zoltack is the author of The Kingdom of Arnhem trilogy: Woman of Honor, Knight of Glory, and Champion of Valor. Black Hellebore, the first book in a superhero romance trilogy, will be released on October 21st. She loves to write romances with lots of tension, and it’s no surprise her favorite TV show is the action-packed The Walking Dead. To learn more about Nicole and her works, visit www.NicoleZoltack.com or her blog at http://NicoleZoltack.blogspot.com