On this blog every Tuesday and Friday I write about story techniques, structure, and/or publishing. Comments and questions are welcome. I also have a personal blog, Amy Deardon, on which I write about a variety of topics purely as they catch my fancy.

I've written one novel, A Lever Long Enough, that I'm honored to say has won two awards. In my life BC (before children) I was a scientist who did bench research.

My book, The Story Template: Conquer Writer's Block Using the Universal Structure of Story, is now available in both hard-copy and e-book formats. I also coach would-be novelists and screenwriters to develop their story. YOU CAN CONTACT ME at amydeardon at yahoo dot com.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Creating Tension in Your Story

Tension in your story must be in every chapter, every paragraph, and even every sentence. A good definition of tension might be: The uncertainty of at least one issue.

Tension is not generated when the writer describes exciting (or not so exciting) events that the protagonist wrestles through, but in the end these events don't push the story along. They simply add word count. For example, a POV character will find a chilled bottle of water, unscrew its tight cap, take a few sips of the cold liquid, then screw the lid back on and wipe her hands on her black summer-cloth-weight Capri pants, feeling refreshed now. If the character has arthritis then her method of opening a bottle might give a grace note to her character, but otherwise this is throwaway stuff.

So how might one push a story along? There are many techniques to do this. Perhaps the most reliable device to add tension is to include a ticking clock: a time limit to accomplish a goal.

The core principle is to consistently raise the stakes for the protagonist: put more in jeopardy, make it uncertain that the protagonist can accomplish a goal that is vital to him and for the long-term success for the story. Everything counts, including little actions. Who cares how the character opens a bottle of water? But if the character isn't sure that she will be able to sneak a sip of water to calm a cough before she has to make an announcement, it might become more interesting.
When you write a sentence, paragraph, scene, or more, ask yourself, “Do these words and events matter to the story?” If not, get rid of them.

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