In a previous post I talked about types of tension and where you can find it. In this post I’d like to talk more about using it in your story in order to keep your readers turning pages. I’ve read books where, once the action starts, there is no stopping until the end. I’ve watched television shows and movies where the tension was like that, too.
What also works is what I call on again off again tension. This is when the tension is rising and has the reader/viewer on the edge of their seats, then the story does an abrupt change and goes to a different scene thus breaking the tension. Those are the moments when you, the reader, might stay, “Nooo. What happens next?” You might put the book down at this point because you’re frustrated or you might continue reading. But that’s up to you. Eventually, you will pick the book up again and continue reading. Although, I don’t see you waiting very long if you are wanting to know what happens next.
Either of these two ways of creating tension is effective. It all depends on the story you are writing and how you, the author, wants to create that tension. BUT…..however you present the tension in your story, it must build as the story moves along. Continue throwing conflict at your main character(s), and continue stepping up the “gas”.
Unanswered question or questions created by the situation or by other characters within the story and keeps readers asking more questions thereby raising their curiosity
Danger, fear, or conflict
Increased danger, fear, or conflict that ebbs and flows as the story moves along
Engaging characters with opposing goals
If you’re having difficulty coming up with specific ideas that will create tension/suspense, think of it this way, play on your main character’s fears. Make them as uncomfortable and fearful as possible. Throw the works at them. Just don’t forget to give them the courage to work through that fear and accomplish the story’s goals.
This is when the main character finds himself/herself going up against a vengeful god/being or other supernatural force. A ghost comes to mind here.
Who hasn’t read a good ghost story or seen a spooky movie? This conflict deals with man versus something other worldly. Yes, that means ghosts/spirits. The Amityville Horror Movies are great examples. Do you like ghost stories? I do. To a point. I’d rather watch one that read one though.
Book Examples with Man vs. Supernatural Conflict 1. Seven Sisters (book series) by M. L. Bullock (I highly recommend this series). 2. The Amityville Horror 3. Prodigal by Judy K. Walker 4. The Vanished Series by B. B. Griffith 5. The Ripper by Jon F. Merz
This type of conflict is between a character and their inner self. Don’t we go through this type of struggle on a regular basis?
Examples include: 1. Lack of self-confidence 2. The feeling of guilt when you do something against what you normally would do. 3. Love conflict: When you hurt someone you love. 4. The struggle of having to do something you don’t want to do but have to do. A great example of this is in Lord of the Rings when Frodo struggles with his destiny of having to destroy the ring.
Other Movie Examples of Man vs. Self 1. Buzz Lightyear in the first Toy Story movie. He’s a toy but doesn’t realize he’s a toy. 2. In the movie UP, Carl Fedricksen the grumpy old man is cynical and struggles with the cynicism that has encompassed him and the adventurous spirit he once was. 3. Tangled. Rapunzel struggles with wanting to stay in the tower or defy her mother and venture outside and leave the tower.
Person vs Technology This type of conflict is where a person(s) go up against the perilous effects of technology moving in a forward direction. Someone had a great idea that sounded great at the time, but when the idea was tried out or an experiment done, something went very wrong. A classic tale that depicts this is the book by Mary Shelley, Frankenstein. Some other examples are 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Terminator, The Giver, The Matrix… The list goes on.
Person vs. Nature This type of conflict would be any story with a plot where a person or people are going up against nature. What immediately comes to mind is a story with a husband and wife who go hiking up into the mountains and an unexpected snow storm hits. They are prepared for cold weather but not for a storm. They try to get back down the mountain to safety before it’s impossible to do so. But they continue to run up against set back after set back…..
Books with Person vs. Nature Conflict: Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer To Build a Fire by Jack London A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson Deliverance by James Dickey
Movies with Person vs. Nature Conflict Cast Away (2000) Life of Pi (2012) Meek’s Cutoff (2010) The Call of the Wild (1972) Grizzly Man (2005)
Part 2 focuses on the type of Person vs. Society conflict. The Scarlet Letter by Nathanial Hawthorne comes to mind. In this story (set in the 1600’s) Hester Prynne, the main character, receives public shaming when she, a married woman, has a child out of wedlock.
Typically there are six types of conflict. The one I’m addressing today is:
PERSON vs. PERSON
This type has to do with conflicts between characters. It could be a conflict between heroes, between hero and villain, between sparring lovers, or between two neighbors. There are others, but we’ll pick on these four.
Story Examples 1. Hero vs. hero: Captain America: Civil War 2. Hero vs. villain: Any of the Harry Potter movies/books. The seventh book comes to mind though because that holds the ultimate battle between hero and villain. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows 3. Between sparring lovers: The movie Crazy, Stupid, Love 4. Between two neighbors: The movie Deck the Halls