The website of the historical fiction writer.

The Festival of Writing 2013 Part Nine: Tension

Crime Writer Eve Seymour ( talked us through the best ways to put tension into a book.

The difference between pacing and tension is that pacing is used to turn the pages while tension adds depth to the story. This is vital for attracting agents as it pushes the characters to their limits. A writer should imagine what the worst thing to happen to their characters would be and see how they react when it happens. Suspense is also a useful thing to use as the reader will want to know what will happen next so it is important not to rush it. Subtle hints help to build up the tension before a sudden revelation (such as an accusation in the middle of small talk).

Eve discussed some of the problems that writers faced when trying to build tension. These included:

  • Solving problems far too soon
  • Characters having too many skills
  • No proper forshadowing (not mentioning skills earlier)
  • No surprise
  • Vague missions
  • Protagonists falling for the same trick twice
  • Violence too mechanical – should show the pain and fear

The reader needs to know what the character will do when faced with a sudden situation, how they will get out of it and what will happen next. Up and down endings are also good to have (such as those in 24) where the protagonist has to lose something to win such as their family, their career or their life.

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