Building Tension in a Story

Suspense Wilde quote

In her recent article Plot Devices that Work, Myra Fiacco suggests two winning techniques that help create anticipation in a story: ‘the clock’ (which is really popular among authors) and the so-called ‘the other shoe’, or “the point in a story when one or more of your characters has a moment of realization, revealing the missing piece of a puzzle that ties the story together.”

Making these two techniques work in a story is not so easy; it certainly takes working on every scene again and again after the first draft has been finished. I am not surprised that writing every novel takes brilliant authors like Donna Tartt nearly a decade; I am sure such authors rewrite their works hundreds of times before they can feel satisfied… So, what are other writing techniques to create and keep tension in a novel?

I have been thinking about these:

The increasing feeling of time pressure. If my character has a goal that must be reached really soon, plus some circumstances will keep breaking in and making the charcter hurry even more, then the reader will probably be more satisfied by the pace of the story.

The tension should come from all sides. If the pressure us high, plus more and more troubling signs of impending danger are revealed to the main character, this may also help a lot. But in this case, the author should not forget about balancing tension with the other elements of the plot. Too many elements of tension in a story may turn the book into a real rollercoaster for the reader.

I like it when the protagonist is a thinking preson, who keeps asking questions and trying to find answers to them. The questions should arise from internal and external conflicts of the story, and it is very important to reveal every answer for the reader before you write ‘the end’ phrase.

The chrescendo technique is a method of keeping the reader interested by gradually increasing emotional tention in the story, and it says: avoid too many sudden jerks in the plot. As a reader, I don’t care for the plots where every plot point comes a real catastrophy: this makes me emotionally tired of the book.

Well, I am sure there are more ‘tricks’ to develop tension in a story; here are just a few articles I read recently on the topic. I hope they might help you answer your questions just like they helped me:

How to Build Tension to Heighten the Stakes by Jessica Page Morrell;

Seven Tension Building Tips for Writing Action Scenes by Joan C. Curtis

How to Create Dramatic Content by Sean D’Souza

Here is some infographics from nownovel.com blog:

Infographic-how-to-create-tension-in-stories

 

 

 

Arming teachers. What’s next? Arming kids?

(flash fiction, one minute read)

Walking about the school unarmed was not only humiliating, but quite scary. Jodie paused at a turn of a corridor, pulled down the visor, and checked her garments: the bulletproof vest beneath her uniform was quite bulky, but since it was a new rule, she had to wear it at all times. The most hateful, of course, was the helmet: every now and then, its buckle would pinch Jodie’s skin right under the chin, making her eyes moist with tears of anger.

A door in the end of the corridor creaked, the Principal came into sight. He trotted toward the Teachers Room, the flamethrower at the ready. The door clicked locked behind him and the school became silent again.

The feeling of danger made Jodie’s heart beat like a drum. Aww, how stupid it was of her to blab that she’d like to see swings in the school yard instead of that anti-terrorist bunker! Now, she was punished with having to go everywhere unarmed for two weeks!

She felt lonely and scared, and her staggering milk tooth disturbed her like hell. I’m not ready for school yet, she thought. I wonder, could I return to the kindergarten? Hmm… Need to ask Mom about this when I’m home.

Teachers-with-guns-chicagonow-com

Teachers with guns, picture from chicagonow.com

M. Bulgakov’s Immortal Book

Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita was written in the 1930-es, but remained unpublished until 1967. The author died in 1940, unaware that his book would be read by hundreds of millions, translated into all world’s languages, and named one of the best novels of the 20-th century.  Bulgakov started writing it in 1928, but burned the first manuscript in 1930, seeing no future as a writer in the Soviet Union, and then restarted the novel again in 1931. His personal drama was reflected in the book, along with numerous other dramatic and comical topics, drawn so brilliantly that, once having started reading, you cannot take a break and read it to the end.

M&M2

The book is full of strikingly wise and amazingly precise thoughts. Below are a few phrases which I tried to translate from Russian with minimal loss of meaning, along with a few well-known illustrations of the book.

M&M11

“What would your good do if evil didn’t exist, and what would the earth look like if all the shadows disappeared?”

M&M0

“Fact is the most stubborn thing in the world.”

M&M1

“There is no greater misfortune in the world than the loss of reason.”

M&M3

“…the one who loves must share the fate of the one he loves.”

M&M9

“Everything will turn out right, the world is built on that.”

M&M8
― Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita

 

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