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

This week’s video points out the importance of your story’s tension, but also warns against stretching that tension too far.

Video Transcript:

Readers love to be tantalized with the knowledge that the good stuff they’re waiting for (a confrontation, a resolution, a battle, a kiss) are just around the corner. The author needs to stretch out that tantalization as long as possible. But we also have to identify the exact point at which that stretched-out tantalization is likely to snap and leave readers frustrated and disgruntled.

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 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.

So the first thing we 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 here is going to be 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 hero to finally get the girl, then please give him the girl. 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.

Tell me your opinion: What is the source of tension in your current scene?

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  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.

    -A.M.

  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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