Why You Must Create Tension In Your Novel

By on August 6, 2016
Why You Must Create Tension In Your Novel - Writer's Life.org

Every novel needs tension. It doesn’t matter what kind of story you are writing, what genre you are writing in, or how long or short your story is - tension is what keeps readers turning those pages, it gives your story legs, it keeps the action going.

Books often allow us to feel emotions that we have no desire to feel in real life. We may enjoy a good thriller or horror story that frightens us - we don’t want to feel frightened in real life, but through the safety of a book it can be exhilarating.

This is much the same with tension, we avoid situations or actions that make us feel tense, yet tension in a novel is what keeps us hooked.

Without tension readers can lost interest, the story falls flat, there is nothing to make them wonder what will happen next, to fill them with excitement or dread. They won’t be able to react emotionally or engage with the story, and so, they will struggle to get through it.

So, to make sure that you keep your readers captivated, your novel should be dripping with tension. There should be tension at every turn, on every page!

You may think this is a difficult thing to achieve but tension comes in many different forms, and it is possible to create tension throughout your novel without it becoming too overwhelming.

Understanding exactly what tension is is the first step.

Tension is not the same as action. Your story can be heaving with action, it can have all the deadly assassins, plane hijackings, or thunderous wizards as you like, but adding these dramatic elements into your plot, doesn’t mean that you are automatically creating tension.

Tension can be conveyed through your characters feelings as well as throughout the story as a whole. Making your readers tense requires skill and doesn’t necessarily mean having them sitting on the edge of their seat, biting their nails, or having a ball of nerves in their stomach. Though if you are writing a thriller or horror novel this might be what you are aiming for!

However capturing a readers interest, igniting their curiosity, making them excited - these can all be examples of tension too.

Whatever is going on in your story, it needs to be something the readers care about, something that they emotionally engage with so they simply have to keep reading to find out what happens in the end.

Having an exciting plot is one thing, but it is your characters who will create this kind of tension in your novel. If you create characters that are intriguing, interesting, and flawed, characters that are struggling with something, that have many obstacles to overcome, that feel inwardly torn - that’s how you add tension to your story.

If you readers don’t care about what happens to your characters, your story simply won’t work. They must be fighting for something, and they must have something to lose if they don’t achieve their goals.

The stakes should be high and interesting enough that your reader can’t help but will with all their might for your character to find a way to reach them.

As your character strives to achieve their goal, they must be presented with a series of choices, and therefore must make a series of decisions.

It is through this constant decision-making process that tension will increase. Maybe you will choose to keep the reader ignorant of the consequences or maybe they will know if the character chooses to open that letter, take that job, look behind that door, that something will happen, and, be it good or bad, your reader will be right there with them.

By having great characters who your reader can engage with, an enticing, fast-paced plot, and high stakes where your characters have a lot to lose, you can create a tension-filled novel that your readers will love!

So next time you are writing a story - any story, make sure that you remember to pay attention to tension and ensure that you deliver it in heaps to keep your reader hooked on every word.

Bethany Cadman -author of 'Doctor Vanilla's Sunflowers'

Bethany Cadman -author of 'Doctor Vanilla's Sunflowers'

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One Comment

  1. Ohita Afeisume

    August 10, 2016 at 3:39 am

    I guess tension building in novels is a skill that comes through much practice.
    Reading widely will expose one to how others did it in their novels and therefore give us direction.

    Once more, thanks Bethany for this enlightening post. Always so simple to understand and motivating enough to help one take action.

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