1. seta
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    seta Contributing Member

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    Ways to Create Tension?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by seta, Jun 23, 2009.

    It has been pointed out that tension is what makes a reader want to continue reading.

    There needs to be a compelling problem which demands a solution.

    But what can be done to create this atmosphere?

    Obviously, the main driving problem of a story (like the destruction of the One Ring) can create some tension, but there are usually smaller events which cause tension.

    What are some ways to create tension that make the reader want to continue?

    ~~~

    I was thinking character tension. By alluding to a character's past, you may be able to create more curiosity. Revealing a smaller problem about a character to keep the story going.

    I remember how dark and scary the scenes of Minas Tirith and the insanity of Denethor was in LotR, and that was exhiliarating. However, the portions following Frodo and Sam were so dark and glum that I often stopped reading. But still; wanting to see the resolution kept me going. Even though I hated those parts of the books, it kept me involved and kept me going. The first 100 pages of New Moon (ack, pop-culture!) were nothing but whining and angst, but I read through it all.
     
  2. Henry The Purple
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    Henry The Purple Active Member

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    Tension is rooted in conflict, be it the clashing of two personalities, or a trivial inner conflict. My peronal advice is to not overdo it. In my reading experience, the best forms of tension arise from what is not said as opposed to what is said. But at the end of the day, it's your story, and you should generate the tension in a way that best fits your story and its accompanying characters.
     
  3. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    There are easy ways, like adding a ticking clock to the story, to create tension, but really that's not a great tactic. Other ways might include trying to induce a sense of claustraphobia by limiting your setting to just one room and watcing characters sorta go insane (as in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?), other ways simply include small character conflicts, or revealing something that will happen to the character and working towards it, so that the reader knows where they are headed and want to see how the character will get there and therefore how they will react to the situation (which is the same principle but far more effective than the ticking clock method).
     
  4. CDRW
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    CDRW Contributing Member Contributor

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    Shove an alligator through the AC vent.
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Tension arises from the dynamics of plot. The elements of plot a the actor, the goal, the motivation, and the opposition. Changes to any of these can alter the tension. Note that this applies to either the central plot or to any subplot in the story.

    You usually don't change the actor, but it can be done. If one character is able to easily attain the goal, put him or her out of action, and force a different character to take on the challenge.

    You can change the goal. maybe the goal itself is time-dependent, so you can play with the time scale to increase the tension. Alternately, adjusting the nature of the goal can make it a bigger challenge while other aspects remain about the same.

    Now we get to the two forces that create most of the tension. The motivation drives the actor toward the goal, the opposition drives the actor away from the goal. That conflict is the main source of tension, so if you increase both of them, you increase te tension while keeping the rate of progress about the same.

    The motivation is what drives a character to reach the goal. Putting more at stake if the goal is not achieved increases the motivation. If a character is vying for a promotion because she has always wanted to lead the team, that's a decent motivation. But if she needs that promotion because she can't make ends meet to feed her family, her motivation is that much greater. Add into it that her mortgage is past due and the bank is preparing to foreclose next month, and you have one hell of a motivation.

    Maybe the motivation is strong enough, and you character is slowly but steadily approaching the goal. Strengthen the opposition, or add a new one. Your character is well on his way up the mountain to where the Doomsday device is counting down. He has overcome everything you have thrown at him so far, and the reader is now confident in his abilities. So you add a new complication -- a ledge gives way, and he slips into a crevasse. His arm is broken, and he can no longer use it for climbing. Or one of his companions betrays him, has been an enemy agent all along. That adds a new subplot aligned to oppose your character reaching the goal.

    In general, that's how you increase tension. If you want the increased tension to come from within, just remember that if your opposition is a subplot, and the actor is the same as the current plot, you have an internal conflict. For your executive competting for the promotion, it may be that she realizes that making the promotion will place her in a position that will force her to work longer hours, and where she is more likely to be completely without a job if she isn't up to the demands. So her own doubts begin to prey upon her.

    I hope this helps.
     
  6. EyezForYou
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    EyezForYou Active Member

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    Here are some quotes from the Master of Suspense.

    Drama is life with the dull bits cut out. -- Alfred Hitchcock.

    In films murders are always very clean. [In writing] I show how difficult it is and what a messy thing it is to kill a man. -- Alfred Hitchcock.

    There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it -- Alfred Hitchcock.


    Reveal less than what is necessary, giving the reader tidbits of info in small bite-size chunks so mouthwatering, it forces them to turn the pages. Only then should you go for the scorcher, the blazing action scenes, after you made your readers care for your characters.
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Suspense is not the same thing as tension, though.

    Tension is a dynamic that applies to all stories, even comedy. It is founded upon conflict. The intensity of the conflict is directly related to the degree of tension.

    Suspense is a particular emotional state based on uncertainty and peril.
     
  8. cybrxkhan
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    cybrxkhan Contributing Member

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    There was a famous playwright, I forgot his name, who said that if you needed to add excitement to a scene, you just bring in a guy with a gun. Of course, he didn't mean that you needed to literally bring a guy with a gun in to raise the tension - all you need to do is add in some obstacle, some kind of danger, something that hinders, and that will help increase tension.
     
  9. EyezForYou
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    EyezForYou Active Member

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    Maybe we need a little bit of both.

    Perhaps tension can transform into suspense, and suspense is the overhead offshoots of the root that is called tension. They're like cousins; not the same, but completely related.
     
  10. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    The only playwright/gun quote I know was by Chekhov, and that wasn't quite what he said...
    He said (as best I remember it) that if there's a gun hanging on the wall in the first act, it should be fired by the end of the second.

    Which I guess you could interpret as being about suspense...I guess....
     
  11. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Not really. It's more about not introducing irrelelevant details. But I don't entirely agree with what he said in its clearest context. There is a place for misdirection and red herrings. In that case, the gun on the wall need not have been fired, but its presence still serves a purpose.
     
  12. cybrxkhan
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    cybrxkhan Contributing Member

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    I think you're confusing two quotes, the famous Chekov's gun one, and another one, which went something like "Bring a man in with a gun", which basically just says a good way to add tension is just to put in more obstacles or danger. I apparently can't remember who said it, though.
     
  13. BillyxRansom
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    BillyxRansom Active Member

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    this.
     
  14. marina
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    marina Contributing Member Contributor

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    The Chekov thing is about foreshadowing, though, right? So not necessarily about tension.
     
  15. JayTokes
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    You're thinking of Raymond Chandler. Famous crime writer. Quotation is:

    “When in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand.”
     
  16. cybrxkhan
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    cybrxkhan Contributing Member

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    Yeah, I think it's that one. Thanks.
     
  17. seta
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    seta Contributing Member

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    Thanks guys, this has been really helpful and very constructive.

    I usually try and have one "bump" in each chapter. The day (or night) is going on as normal and then a wrench gets thrown into the gears. Either the characters get some bad news, or some unwelcome friends show up, or something. I'm still in the build-up part of my story, so it's nothing severe yet. The true problem will be revealed in the next couple of chapters - kind of like when Frodo finally takes the burden of the Ring at the Counsel of Elrond.

    ~~~

    I remember reading a pair of books, Wraith and Spectre (can't remember the author's name) and there was sooo many subplots going on at once, it was nerve wracking waiting for the resolution to everything - and only a few of the problems were resolved. It was very messy and left me not wanting to read a third in the series (if there ever is one) so I certainly know what "Don't overdo it" means!
     
  18. bluebell80
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    bluebell80 Contributing Member

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    Tension is a product of conflict. Plain and simple. Where you have conflict, be it internal or external of your MC, then there is tension. You don't create tension, you create conflict, tension is the by-product of that conflict.

    "The tension in the room was thick enough to cut." This is a common term used by people, but why is there tension in the room? Because there is unresolved conflicts between characters in a situation, or people in real life.

    There are many, many different types of tension, usually arising from unsaid things and assumptions that people make. It can be sexual tension between two characters who have been flirting, but the situation causes the conflict, like they are a boss and an employee, thus you have tension. A good example for me of this is Mulder and Scully, their sexual tension throughout the entire series was part of what made the show good.

    There is conflict of interest tension, such as a business deal about to be done by two people with ulterior motives.

    Good vs Evil always creates tension and can range from straight out like Star Wars, to a hidden dilemma of morals and ethics.

    I look at my sources of conflict to see what kind of tension I am creating and I decide if it is enough to create that feeling for the reader. I don't intentionally create tension for the sake of it, it has to be relevant to the conflict at hand.
     
  19. Apples
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    The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing is a fine collection of articles related to the craft. One of them (Find Your Novel's Missing Links) is written by Elizabeth Lyon. It deals specifically with building up to the big scene.

    Most of it is available here:
    http://books.google.com/books?id=D-2o_uP3gpMC&pg=PA40&lpg=PA40&dq=finding+your+novel's+missing+links+elizabeth+lyon&source=bl&ots=HHqxouIRjL&sig=rRM_wRjqHf_fpUNnenxz5L31DLI&hl=en&ei=nrJCSsreGJLalAfaydz6CA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1

    One part not shown in the preview is a section about creating a contrasting scene. Simply put, be sure to include "the calm before the storm".
     

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