Made in America

How to Create Tension When Writing

Hearts are thumping, palms are sweating, and emotions are on the rise.


Tension—it builds, it’s gripping, it keeps people clinging to their books to find out what happens next. And it’s imperative.


Oscar Wilde gave a marvelous line to the character Gwendolen in The Importance of Being Earnest that perfectly summed up the enjoyment of tension in drama, “The suspense is terrible.  I hope it will last.”


Readers are always looking for an escape by way of the pages of a book. They want to teleport themselves into another world; they want to feel emotion.


Though necessary, building tension in your story can be difficult. That said, what’s an orchestra without a crescendo? Quiet.


As an author, you want your book to have a crescendo, a point in the story when all of the moving pieces of the puzzle gradually come together, when excitement and drama all come to a pass in one pivotal moment.


So, how do you create tension when writing? Let’s take a look.



Characters are who keep your story moving forward. They add personality, they add flare and they add substance to your plot line. They can also be catalysts to tension. Readers will likely become vested in characters they can sympathize with and whom they find relatable. Perhaps it’s an underdog who is trying to achieve the unimaginable or a person who’s vulnerable and is trying to escape misfortune. There are a lot of ways to infuse tension into your characters’ lives; however, when doing so, make sure that it’s plausible and makes sense with the character’s storyline.



A conversation provides insight both above and below the surface as to what a person is thinking or feeling. In a book, the dialogue is like a tug-of-war, where two characters are pulling with a force where one person must prevail. Conflict can thrive in dialogue. Perhaps one character is trying to get a rise out of the other, or two characters are in the midst of a heated debate. While not every exchange is filled with action, most times the dialogue is used to move the plot forward; there are times when the tension is palpable, exhibited by the author’s masterful use of terse words and substance.



As in life, when we are faced with a change, we are often thrown off course. Though change is a constant, when it happens to us, we’re slow to accept and tend to cling to the past. That’s why change is the perfect breeding ground for tension.


Change brings out a layer of person’s personality that is often kept quiet. When it’s unleashed, it takes the story to new locations, introducing new characters and circumstances that not would have happened otherwise. Prior to incorporating change into your plot, set up and outline a list of possible changes that could change and modify the course of the story.


Tension adds layers and depth to your plot and keeps your readers intrigued and excited to see how the story unravels. Keep these three tips in mind when working tension into your plot line.


Copyright Dorrance Publishing, 2016


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