An important factor in fiction writing is tension, in which the author creates a sense of urgency. Tension grabs the reader’s attention and refuses to let go, sucking her (or him) into the rhythm of the story. Although tension in fiction writing should ebb and flow good authors remember to convey tension through dialogue. (Showing vs. Telling)
Many novice writers use dialogue as nothing more than a reprieve from narration. Their characters talk but the story isn’t propelled forward and the depths of character motivations aren’t revealed because of it. An effective writer, however, uses dialogue to establish something between characters, often to create the tension necessary to build suspense.
Tension is created by planting questions in the reader’s mind. For example, in the popular Grey’s Anatomy series, the questions would be: Can Meredith help Cristina do heart surgery again? How will she manage to help her friend and not be cut from the residency program? In a romance novel, the general question is: how will the hero and heroine overcome their obstacles and find happiness together? The smaller questions each scene plants in the reader’s mind are what keep the tension high and the pages turning.
Alison Kent explains how to create great tension in her book Writing Erotic Romance. She wrote, “Think of each scene as a rung on a ladder that reaches into the unknown…The higher you climb, the greater the danger of falling, and the greater the fear of what awaits at the top. All this adds to your story’s dramatic tension and keeps you reader on the edge of her seat.” So each action, each complication should bring the hero or heroine one step up the emotional ladder and make failure even more dangerous.
Award-winning author, Gail Gaymer Martin gives more insights about creating tension in her blog. (See http://tinyurl.com/yza3mmc for part one and http://tinyurl.com/yzlwpcb for part two of her Tension and Conflict articles.) You can also visit her web site at http://www.gailmartin.com/.
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