by Rachel Hauck, @RachelHauck
Definition: Most of us hate conflict and confrontation. Even in our books. But tension is king! Donald Maass suggest tension on every page. Better yet, on every line.
Tension doesn’t mean argument. Tension means “things aren’t going well.”
For example: A conflict arises for your heroine. She gets pulled over for speeding. Instead of the officer letting her off, she gets a ticket. This upsets her. While she’s getting a ticket, her mother calls to say Uncle Ned is coming Sunday and our girl is expected at the house for dinner. She blows up. Why is Mama always so bossy? Our heroine will do what she wants for Sunday dinner. She might have plans already. Ever think of that, Mama?
Tension! Use every opportunity to create tension. To up the stakes. To distance the protagonist from her goal. Keep it real. Don’t have characters apologizing to other characters and relieving the tension.Now, we do want those down moments when protagonist is exhaling, relaxing, laughing, doing well. Those are the sequel scenes where we see the protagonist advancing toward his or her ultimate goal.
Lets see this play out. Here is a scene where Jane found out John was moving to Peru to live in the jungle? What if she just accepts what he says and doesn’t fight back?
“W-what? You’re moving to Peru? I don’t understand.” Jane pressed her hands against her temple. John couldn’t be serious.
“I know it’s hard but I need to do this, Jane. I feel it is my way to salvation. I must deny myself.”
“Well, if you really feel it’s what you must do.” Jane crossed the room and embraced her fiancee. “I love you. I’ll miss you.”
What?! Nooooo, we want a fight here. You may think I’m being ridiculous, but I’ve read this in books before. Usually it’s because the author is trying to get rid of a character to bring in another one. What if John is not the true hero but Steve is? Either way, you must up the emotion. Jane doesn’t know about Steve yet. All she knows is she loves John and he’s talking crazy!
The scene would be more engaging with a tense conversation.
“W-what? You’re moving to Peru? To live in the jungle?” A sardonic laugh rolled up from Jane’s chest. “You don’t eve like to go on picnics. How are you going to live in the jungle?” She crossed her arms, regarding him, waiting for his answer. “I don’t believe it.”
“Well, believe it…” He snorted, dismissing her with a wave of his hand. “They said you’d react like this.”
“They who? John, you’re being brainwashed.” Jane fired across the room, gripping her fiancee by the shoulders. “Wake up. What has gotten into you?”
“The light, Jane.” He jerked out of her grasp. “I suggest you find a bit of the light in your own dark soul too.”
Much better right!? It’s so much more emotionally driven. Oh, John is going to leave and Steve is going to enter Jane’s life but until then, she’s in turmoil. Show that. Up the tension.
Rule: Never miss an opportunity for an argument.
Workshop it: What scene in your WIP needs more tension. Did you let the protagonist or another character off the hook?
Tenley Roth’s first book was a runaway bestseller. Now that her second book is due, she’s locked in fear. Can she repeat her earlier success or is she a fraud who has run out of inspiration?With pressure mounting from her publisher, Tenley is weighted with writer’s block. But when her estranged mother calls asking Tenley to help her through chemotherapy, she packs up for Florida where she meets handsome furniture designer Jonas Sullivan and discovers the story her heart’s been missing.
New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal best-selling, award-winning author Rachel Hauck loves a great story. She serves on the Executive Board for American Christian Fiction Writers. She is a past ACFW mentor of the year. A worship leader and Buckeye football fan, Rachel lives in Florida with her husband and ornery cat, Hepzibah. Read more about Rachel at www.rachelhauck.com.