Creating Tension In A Scene
First, make sure you’ve built into your character traits that will lead to trouble in important scenes: Impetuousness, independence, pride, naiveté, are all qualities that will make your character get himself into jams. How much tension you can portray will depend heavily on built-in conflict and character flaws.
Set up the tension.
Keep saying “No” to your character. Whatever it is they want, hold it back. Don’t try to fix things for them—that comes later—and most of the time I don’t even worry about how I will fix a problem. The best conflict is that which appears unsolvable, so heap situations on them for them to prove their mettle. Don’t make their situations easier; always make their lives more difficult.
Look at your character’s goals and ask yourself, “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” Then take the worst thing a step further. For emotional intensity, conflict should be directly related to the character’s internal goals and to their backstory. Don’t rely on “incidents” to carry scenes or conflict. Heaping one calamity after another can end up leaving the reader breathless and feeling like she’s watching the Perils of Pauline. By an incident, I mean something that could happen to anyone and doesn’t really have emotional importance to this particular character.
Here’s a simplistic example: A torrential thunderstorm with hail that destroys property or crops would be devastating for anyone. But if your character’s goal is to make a success of herself by growing the largest tomato for the state fair, AND her parents died when a storm washed a bridge out when she was young, you’ve got the basis for a tense scene.
Jayne Ann Krentz says that in pivotal scenes you should think “larger-than-life, emotion and contrast.” A plot is basically a series of pivotal scenes that will cause your two main characters to confront each other frequently on an intensely emotional level. Arrange these scenes in your story so that they escalate in terms in intensity.
Leaving details about the character in question is an effective way to intrigue your reader. Don’t fill in all the answers, but give them enough so that they’re not frustrated. With most techniques, what to use and what to omit is a balance, one that depends on your story and your characters.
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You can’t leave out something and then just throw it in at the end because it needs to be told or because it’s the end of the book. You must make the reader want to know the information by planting a seed, alluding to this mystery and using it as a teaser. Like this line: “She hated funerals.” Plain and simple. Someone dies, but your heroine won’t go to the services. The reader is left knowing there is a reason and wanting to know what that reason is. The lure of the unknown draws the reader further and further into the story. Revealing too much takes away the seductive lure of discovery.
The reader must know something is missing. You don’t want to make him feel like he has had something pulled over on him once the story ends. We don’t want him surprised that this huge fact is revealed—we want him surprised at what that revelation is.
Don’t use backstory in action scenes.
Hint at things to make the reader want to know.
Keep the reader wanting to know more.
Make the reader want to see a character reaction.
Another approach is the Hitchcock technique. Let the reader know something that none of the story people know. This is successful because it keeps the reader guessing when the character will find out and how they will react.
As you’re writing, remember, the power is in the verb.
Use a hook at the end of a paragraph.
Use a hook when you switch point of view.
Use a hook at the end of each scene.
In a romance, romantic interludes are action scenes, and if you’ve kept tension high throughout the first chapters, the reader is eagerly awaiting this scene. If a romantic scene happens at the end of the book, it’s a resolution—by now the hero and heroine have realized they love each other and are culminating their physical relationship. All external conflicts should have been tied up by this time.
If a romantic scene, say a kiss, takes place before internal conflict is settled, as a plot point or as an added dilemma, then you must follow the scene with a new problem or hook or story question that keeps the story moving. If you allow tension to drop, your story will stop moving forward.
The classic example, of course, is where the hero/heroine share a tender scene, everything seems blissful, and then one of them discovers some truth about the other that pushes them apart again. This is used often in books and movies because it works so well, but it’s always fun to think up something new, so give clichés another thought when you’re plotting.
Change is what keeps the reader turning pages: New challenges, new information, new twists and added complications. I’m putting my own advice to the test right now, while writing an online read for the Harlequin site. I’m not putting myself to sleep yet, so I think it’s going well.
Do you have a favorite author who never fails to keep you turning pages?
From The Heart: http://cherylstjohn.blogspot.com/
Check out these Christmas novellas for someone who is getting a new Kindle!