Tension is the key element in storytelling. Without it, a story has no urgency or suspense. Tension is what keeps the reader up past their bedtime, flipping pages. According to Gary Provost, tension is "a cord or series of cords that stretch across every paragraph you write".
Tension is produced by the conflict in your story. How? Because conflict creates uncertainty for your characters. Will the young soldier die trying to save his comrade? Will the lady lose her reputation? How will an unemployed single mother take care of her children? Tension is the "anticipation and dread" factor that readers want. Your readers will anticipate the outcome of a character’s actions and dread what this will mean for the character as the story continues. Also, creating tension means having strong opposition to your main character. Strong enough so that the reader will be interested in how your hero finally wins.
Once you have your strong characters and your high stakes woven into your plot, look to your own writing to help create tension. Use “tense” words. Gary Provost suggests going through your manuscript and looking for places you can create tension by using: Words of delay. Words that imply fear. Words of danger. Words of urgency.
Below is an example using Provost’s word choice suggestions:
Original: "She stopped at the sight of the broken gate, its rusty hinges damaged. His shoe had left a print in the soft earth. He had come this way. Had he found the vault? She hurried past the broken gate and moved into the shadows. It was important she reach the vault before he learned the truth about her."
Revision: "She froze at the sight of the broken gate, its rusty hinges ripped loose. His shoe had left a deep print in the dark earth. He had come this way. Had he found the vault? She rushed past the broken gate and stole into the shadows. It was critical she reach the vault before he discovered the truth about her.
To summarize, heroes/heroines with high stakes at risk, facing stronger opposition and continued conflict will create the kind of tension that will keep your readers holding their breath as they turn the page.
Thanks to Anna for having me today and thank you for stopping by. If you're looking for a short fun read with a tall, dark and handsome rancher, a dazzling heroine, a few famous outlaws, a heartless bad guy, some steamy scenes and some suspenseful moments, you'll enjoy Almost An Outlaw! Links are on my blog.