Draw Out Your Story’s Tension—But Not Too Far

We delay reader gratification by foreshadowing something interesting to come—then not giving it to ’em and not giving it to ’em. The very fact that readers know the good stuff is coming (paired with their subsequent desire to see how it plays out) is usually enough to keep them turning pages. In fact, they would be downright disappointed if we were to give up the chase too soon and hand over the goods. The chase, after all, is ninety percent of the fun!

But a chase that doesn’t end with a prize is a bum deal, to put it lightly. A chase that drags on until we’re too exhausted and bored to care about the prize any longer is even worse.

The first thing authors need to do is make sure we’ve got a humdinger of a prize waiting for our readers at the end of the story. Ramp up the stakes and prepare yourself to deliver fireworks! Beyond that, your primary concern adjusting the pacing, so you’re feeding readers little breadcrumbs of anticipation that continually whet their appetites for the big feast at the end.

Be on your guard against allowing the story to drag on. If you’ve said everything there is to be said, if there’s nothing left but for the lover interests to get together, please let them get together. You don’t want readers throwing your book across the room and hollering at you to just get it over with already. Plan your story so readers are looking forward to the payoff all the way through without ever growing frustrated over the delay.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! What is the source of tension in your current scene? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. Good reminder. I have read those books where it got to the point I no longer cared how the situation was resolved or if it was resolved, and simply closed the book for good and picked up a new one.

  2. Readers are often extremely patient. But their patience doesn’t last forever!

  3. “Kiss her already.”

    “Kill the guy, come on!”

    The rewards of reading!

    Let readers have them, but make them earn them. Reading is an escape, yes, but it’s the same as anything in life that the reward comes after work. If they take their time and make an investment, they are almost guaranteed a payoff. All they have to do is make the investment.


  4. Absolutely. Reading is a partnership between writer and reader. The reader has to fulfill his part just as surely as does the writer, or the whole thing won’t work.

  5. As a reader, I am patient, but I see exactly what you mean. Dangling the carrot too long will just make it rot. 🙂

  6. Too much of a good thing is sometimes worse than not enough!

  7. Very important to remember when it’s time to end the chase and cross the threshold of happiness…

  8. The guy can’t ride off into the sunset with the girl if the sun has already set!

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