Monday, May 18, 2015

T is for Tension

Ana muses on how a writer can build page-turning tension.

Beats. The words that describe what the characters are doing with their hands, eyes, and feet during scenes with dialogue. Sentences that reveal what the POV character is thinking or feeling. Beats can up the tension by slowing down the action at critical moments. A hero being stalked by the villain can strain for the crack of a branch or creak of a staircase step.

Short sentences. "Who's out there?" sounds serious. We usually don't construct long or perfect sentences when we're under stress. We shout, ramble, blurt, repeat. We don't describe the pattern on the wallpaper.

Short (one line) paragraphs. Rapid fire dialogue conveys tension. Terse sentences make for a fast read, which helps the reader feel how the scene is building to a crescendo.

Word choice. 

Deep POV (internal dialogue) reveals.

Plot (story arc).


  1. One of my critique partners is excellent and doing this, and at critiquing it in others. In a suspense novel, it's easier to do than in a romance or other genres, but it's what keeps the reader interested and helps to make a page turner.

  2. I think suspense lends itself to tension, but romances have a lot of tension. Lovers misunderstand each other, have secrets, make mistakes, try hard until the Black Moment, when all seems lost.
    Lots of tension in a good story arc, IMO.

  3. Ending a chapter on a cliff-hanger can also create tension, for the character(s) and also for the readers.

  4. The length of sentences can definitely help convey the mood of our scenes.