This post is part of the April A-Z Blogging Challenge, wherein participants blog throughout the month according to the letters of the alphabet. For more on the challenge, click here.
Note: If anyone wondered, I tagged the blog as having adult content due to a few factors: one, strong language; two, the possibility that excerpts I post may have graphic descriptions of sex or violence and therefore unappealing to some readers. Never fear, though, I’ll be sure to warn y’all if a post of that nature comes up! In the meantime, feel free to read on!
Note: This post features a hefty amount of ridiculousness and mention of the horizontal mambo. Bow chicka wow wow!
Cheers and happy ABC’ing,
No matter what kind of story you’re writing, you’re gonna need some tension. We deal with it, even in small ways, in our everyday lives, and often, we read books because characters’ lives have just the kind of tension ours don’t, or simply have more tension than ours do.
There are a few things worth thinking about when it comes to bringing some tension into a story. Mind you, this is all my own experience, but I think it can be applied pretty widely to most genres of novels. Here we go!
Number One: What kind of tension are you looking to inject into your story? If you intend to write a romance but your characters have a strict deadline to save the world, they’re probably not gonna have much time for longing stares and hand-holding to build up to a consummation of their relationship. Likewise, if you intend to write a thriller but get caught up in your characters’ deep need for sexual healing and passionate declarations of undying love (after they’ve known each other for approximately three weeks), your MCs might have a night of really amazing sex… before the world blows up or some key political figure dies in a horrible assassination plot they could have stopped if they hadn’t been so busy fornicating.
Section B: Just how tense and heart-pounding is your story? Too much tension and readers will be stressed out and our books will need to come with a health warning (warning: not recommended for patients with heart conditions). Not enough tension and our books will be marketed as a cure for insomnia (with narcolepsy as a side effect for average folks). Find a balance. Not every scene has to be brutal for characters and readers alike. The human body can’t sustain a fear response for extended periods, so eventually, they’re gonna need to crash for a bit.
Part III: Once you’ve worked out those other things, you need to show that tension without putting in a footnote that says “BTW, THIS SCENE IS ÜBER INTENSE” (assuming people read footnotes nowadays—maybe that’s just me). Credit your readers with being able to notice that things are getting tense without you smacking them in the face with it. Sexual tension? One person’s breath catching as someone accidentally touches them while reaching past them for an object isn’t usually something that happens in a purely platonic relationship. People give off signals when they’re attracted to someone. Our pupils dilate, our breathing gets faster, blood rushes to our faces and we realize we’re blushing, so we’re blushing even more (again, maybe just me)…
Looking for something more dramatic? Make your hero’s heart speed up, get them to break a sweat. Make them so scared their hands shake. Announce that the only way to break a curse is to kill a loved one. Plant a bomb in the hero’s home! Have a standoff between good and evil! Kill a few loved ones! (Just, for the love of Whedon, if everything’s getting rather bleak, crack a joke!)
Bonus: As always, you have to know why your characters act the way they do, and that includes their reactions under pressure. Most people wouldn’t find it normal to, say, deal with stress by mouthing off to police officers and celebrating getting arrested. If it’s a weekly thing for your character, you need to somehow explain that to us, even if only by mentioning that as a kid growing up in a rough situation, the only time your character ever felt like life had some stability to it was when they were in juvie.
Oh, and in the name of good writing, give your characters an outlet, would you? We put them through a lot, and we want them to suffer as long as possible before we give them their happy endings (or, y’know…not*).
* Don’t pretend you’re not cackling gleefully on the inside, you liars. Go let your characters blow off some steam.