I've been thinking a lot about Nikki's post on tension. Like she said, a book doesn't have to be an action-thriller to be a page turner. But a book does need tension. It's what keeps the reader reading. It's what makes a story. Without tension we just have mundane life and, let's face it, no one really wants to read about that. Stories need action-- whether it be physical action, emotional turmoil, or mental change.
James Scott Bell, in his book Plot & Structure, gives good advice on creating tension.
1st- Let your readers know what is at stake.
When conflict arises, how will it affect your MC? The higher the stakes, the greater the tension. Otherwise, the reader is left thinking "Who cares?" and will likely put the book down.
2nd- Stretch the tension.
Milk your reader's emotions for all their worth. If you want them to worry, REALLY make them worry. (And, really, a reader should be worried throughout the book, no matter the subject, to see if the MC is going to be able to achieve his/her goal.) Pause a moment and consider all of the options the scene presents. Then ratchet it up a notch. Consider further possibilities.
Here are some things Mr. Bell suggests to think about when you're writing a scene:
- What is the worst thing that can happen to my character? (physical/outside circumstance or a range of mental stakes... look to the character's fears)
- What is the worst trouble my character can get into in this scene?
- Have I sufficiently set up the depth of emotions for readers before the scene? (We need to care about the characters before we care about their problems.)
- Have I sufficiently set up the danger for readers before the scene? (Remember they need to know what's at stake before they can start worrying.)
Building the tension throughout the story is what really leads to an ending that your readers will likely not soon forget.
This is what I've been thinking about lately. What do you do to build tension?