Jump to content

Welcome to Christian Writers!

We are a friendly community built around Christian writing, publishing, reading and fellowship. Register or sign in today to join in the fun!

Recommended Posts

So, how do you all go about creating and increasing tension in your stories? 


I have no problem putting characters into tight situations, but writing so that readers feel the squeeze, as it were, is proving difficult.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Well, there are several ways. The ones I find work the best (at least for me) is to state the stakes and set a time frame.

 

Think of it like this: You have a new babysitting job, and you want to prove yourself after everyone said they did not think you could handle it. Not so bad, but what if after the child has been tucked in the house catches on fire. Now you need to save the child before the fire gets to the child. Throw in a plot twist, and have the child scare and hiding from the fire. (Always teach you kids not to hide from a fire!!!!) Now you have to hunt for the child and save you both before the fire reaches the two of you, or you succumb to smoke inhalation. 

Edited by Alley
  • Like 2
  • Thanks 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It's not so much creating a tense situation, as it is making readers really feel the tension that is my issue.

Just to clarify, I'm not trying to write a thriller, just a story that makes people want to keep reading.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 minutes ago, Zee said:

Just to clarify, I'm not trying to write a thriller, just a story that makes people want to keep reading.

I understand your point. Like @HK1 said in one of my threads, it can help to keep the sentences short.  Show, don't tell. Use strong adjectives that show emotion.

 

Quoting my sister's work:

 

"The doctor was mad now, and turning part of his anger on the girl. . ."

 

vs.

 

"The doctor was furious now, and turning part of his wrath on the girl. . ."

 

See the difference?

  • Like 1
  • Haha 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
6 minutes ago, Zee said:

, I'm not trying to write a thriller, just a story that makes people want to keep reading.

Oh! Sorry! 

 

I don't write those much, but when I read, then I want to have something that keeps me wondering what happens next, and I don't want to be able to guess the ending! 

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, Zee said:

So, how do you all go about creating and increasing tension in your stories?

Do you mean you want to get readers to feel the characters' tension?

 

If that's what you mean, I just posted a thread which may help you practise writing in a way that gets inside your characters' heads and helps convey their feelings. Off the top of my head, let's try this example:

 

Quote

Ethan wanted to ask Cindy to the dance, but he was afraid she would say no. Even more than that, he feared the ridicule he would face from her cool friends when she turned him down.

 

Compare it to this:

 

Quote

Ethan's mouth went dry as Cindy looked up at him and waited for him to speak. He had spent half an hour rehearsing the words he planned to use to ask her to the dance, but now as he pictured her turning him down, his wits fled and his jaw hung slack. A sheen of sweat coated his hands. She would say no, and all her friends would hear about it and rip him to pieces.

I've over-egged the pudding a bit, but I hope the point comes across! Use emotional and physical signs to make us feel along with him.

  • Like 4

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, Zee said:

So, how do you all go about creating and increasing tension in your stories?

One of the things I do is to write like I'm in the scene.  For example, have your character feel things you feel when you're afraid.  Things like a pounding heart, dry mouth, shaking hands, or cold sweat. 

  • Like 5

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

One of our own, BK Hunter, wrote a scene that stood out for me in his book where time was ticking as events were happening.  It was like an imaginary clock running out of time as each stage of the scene marched forward.  I thought it was very effective and definitely built up the suspense.. 

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Here's simple things to do to create tension - raise the stakes to death or symbolic death if someone fails. Those my age remember the tv movie with michael landon where he played a track star who was a bed wetter, and the scene where he's trying to outrun a car so nobody will see he wet his pants. Really tense. It wasn't death, but it was symbolic death for him if he failed.

 

Look at the difference between finding Dory and finding Nemo - Nemo was facing death - Dory was just facing, well, life as it was if she failed. While Dory was a better movie overall, Nemo is more satisfying. Nemo's alive, family reunited. Dory found her parents and got back home.  For Dory to rival Nemo in terms of success would require that she die or face symbolic death if she didn't find her parents. In that sense, Dory failed at the premise.

 

Your protagonist must do something. Notice "Must".

Now raise the stakes so that he or she will die if they don't do it.

And find every way you can to make it impossible for him or her to do it.

They cannot win until the last four pages of the novel.

 

There you go.

  • Like 5
  • Thanks 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 10/10/2019 at 4:48 PM, Zee said:

So, how do you all go about creating and increasing tension in your stories? 


I have no problem putting characters into tight situations, but writing so that readers feel the squeeze, as it were, is proving difficult.

This reminds me of an old joke.

 

Three old men were sitting together.

 

The first one said, "When I was a kid, I walked five miles to school every day."

 

The second one said, "I walked seven miles in old shoes, in three feet of snow up a mountain, both ways."

 

The third said, "You had feet?"

 

That's about how I create tension. Give no breaks for the characters. Even if it can't possibly go wrong, have it go wrong. And then wronger. And wronger. And wronger, right up to the climax.

 

Even after the climax there was one or two more wrongers. (They seriously needed a bath after the climax, but the water was frigid. Not sure if that was wronger, or acceptable after all they went through. o_O)

 

Pile it on.

  • Like 4

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hmmm, good thoughts, thanks.

The way the plot now stands, the main character doesn't think she herself will die if she fails, but she thinks her husband will...maybe I've just rambled too much getting to the point.

  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, Zee said:

the main character doesn't think she herself will die if she fails, but she thinks her husband will.

That sounds like a lot of tension to me!

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
8 hours ago, Zee said:

the main character doesn't think she herself will die if she fails, but she thinks her husband will

This is a good start. You have a main character with a goal. My suggestion is to make sure that she has every reason to try and keep her husband alive. What would happen if she fails? To follow on from what Nicholas suggested, make her failure a symbolic death for her. It has to be worse than children without a father, and herself facing life alone. Maybe there's some random law that would hold her accountable for her husband's crime/debt if he is dead, or worse yet, one of his children. What does it mean to be a widow in her culture? What might happen to her children? 

 

Get this goal clearly stated/clearly shown as close to the beginning of your book as possible. From there, raise the stakes. Every time your main character comes in contact with the primary conflict (keeping husband alive), add something new, something else that she discovers that makes her goal all the more impossible to achieve.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I built the tension  in my children's book, Amazonia, The Legend, in a slightly different way.  The threat is the plantation owners' desire to destroy the animals' area of the rainforest, their homes and families.  Tension mounts as they face dangerous conditions while carry out what they believe to be the most obvious solution,  but it slows down to a more relaxed and funny scene, lulling them into believing they succeeded in saving their world.  They don't know what the audience knows; that one of the plantation owners is bent on burning their forest to the ground.  They wake from their peaceful slumber to the smell of smoke. . .  It is not until the second half of the book that the audience finds out who lives and who dies.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
19 hours ago, Zee said:

Hmmm, good thoughts, thanks.

The way the plot now stands, the main character doesn't think she herself will die if she fails, but she thinks her husband will...maybe I've just rambled too much getting to the point.

Oh, that's a good'n. Has anyone in your family been seriously sick and you can't do a thing about it? It's much easier to be sick yourself than to have a love one be sick. At least you know how bad it is for you. If it's someone else, you tend to think it's the absolute worst. (Or is that just me?) And there is still nothing you can do to make him feel better. (Yes, there is pray, however, unless God does the miraculous, not knowing how he'll answer makes that feel like nothing too.)

 

That same feeling rests on your wife character. Scared worst because it's him, not her. Make the reader feel that along with what she thinks she has to do to fix it.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I was just thinking, and I wonder if part of my problem may be confusing life with art...

Most of us have probably experienced an intense, potentially life-threatening situation once or twice in our lives, but for those who have these experiences become habitual, the instinct is to dial back the tension, to survive mentally sound.

I think I'm perhaps unconsciously doing this for my characters too, instead of turning up the heat as much as possible, which is what is required for the art form.

We'll see what we can do. Ha ha!

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

You know, I think you should, Nicholas.  Or at the very least write books about it.  I've always said that there is a market for how-to books with writers because there are so many of them.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
20 hours ago, Zee said:

I was just thinking, and I wonder if part of my problem may be confusing life with art...

Most of us have probably experienced an intense, potentially life-threatening situation once or twice in our lives, but for those who have these experiences become habitual, the instinct is to dial back the tension, to survive mentally sound.

I think I'm perhaps unconsciously doing this for my characters too, instead of turning up the heat as much as possible, which is what is required for the art form.

We'll see what we can do. Ha ha!

I had to kill one of my characters. I don't take that lightly. Not only because I'm a Christian, but because many of my characters are real. My stuffed animals. (Real. Not alive. ;)) I even made sure he isn't one of my stuffies because I was going to off him. (BTW, didn't help. Cried every time anyway. :()

 

I knew I had to crank up to make that scene mean what it has to mean. But, yeah, been through enough not to want to go through more just for fiction. The poor stuffie has died four times now. The first draft, second draft, third draft, final draft. (Not to be confused with fourth draft. I skipped making it worse for a few drafts.) Each time I made him a little more or made the death a little more. I don't have the heart to do both.

 

So, suggestion. If you don't have the heart to do it in one draft, you still have the option of adding to it in other drafts. Don't kick yourself for not getting it the first time. But when you go back, crank it up. (And then, feel free to kick yourself for being that mean to fictional characters. :$)

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
13 hours ago, Spaulding said:

I had to kill one of my characters. I don't take that lightly.

I also recently killed one of my characters. A minor one, but I didn't realize how much I actually liked him until he was dead. But looking ahead, I know how badly his death will affect the rest of the story, which will push the tension up. 

 

11 hours ago, Nicholas Reicher said:

 

stuffed animals.jpg

Too true!! :D 

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Restore formatting

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

We have placed cookies on your device to help make this website better. You can adjust your cookie settings, otherwise we'll assume you're okay to continue.