Tension: The Missing Ingredient in Your Writing

Today I’ll be posting a trifecta of comments on posts by Rachel Aaron (you can find her on Twitter and Facebook). Sit down and buckle up, because today you will get hit with a ton of writing advice.

The first post I came across was a guest post by Rachel on (and just as a heads up, I’ll be commenting on her posts about writing 10,000 words a day and writing a novel in 12 days, so you can either read them now or read them later today). In this post, Rachel discusses the importance of tension in her writing. Many writers are aware of the importance of character development and plot. Those writers can easily create a story in which the character is challenged, grows in response to the challenge, and finally beats or gets beaten by that challenge. And many writers know the three act structure (be sure to click on those Extra Credits videos, by the way. They are short, funny, and smart.).

But many writers, myself included, tend to think of a plot as getting from point A to point B. Writers often have a beginning and an end in mind, and we’ll write a story that traverses those two points. But what does that make? A flat line. Instead, we should be going for that roller coaster curve described by Rachel. In addition to thinking of your story as a sequence of scenes, you should also remember that your story should build to that big finish–following a pattern of tension and release, tension and release, tension and release, each cycle getting bigger than the last.

Rachel offers some great advice here. I know many of my stories start out great in my head, but fall flat on the page. Why? No tension. Or not enough tension. Or too much of a gap between tension cycles. The story becomes boring, and I don’t feel like writing any more. And I know for sure that my readers won’t like it if I can’t stand my writing. It’s a terrible state to be in.

So check out Rachel’s post for some great ideas on introducing tension into your story. Keeping that tension cycle going will not only keep your readers engaged, but it will also keep you engaged. And as I’ll talk about later, keeping yourself excited about writing is a great way to keep your butt in the chair and increase your daily word count.

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