THE END OF TENSION TALKS! How to Increase the Tension in Your Story

In my earlier posts these past couple of weeks, both Steve Wedel and Mark Del Franco had some interesting things to say about point-of-view and tension.

So, in this final blog, I’m going to talk about that a tiny bit more and then give some quick hints about creating suspenseful stories.

Because like Jeff Deaver said it’s our responsibilities as writers to: Give my readers the most exciting roller coaster ride of a suspense story I can possibly think of.

Although, to be fair I agree with Fawn Brodie’s sentence: Show me a character whose life arouses my curiosity, and my flesh begins crawling with suspense.

Character is really intertwined with point-of-view.

There are two main point of views I’m talking about here, first person and third person.

Every day you live in your own point-of-view. Every day you are the main character of your story living out the suspense of your life. That’s the first person.

If you expand beyond yourself, use empathy and imagination to jump back into other people’s lives as well, creating a web that connects both, that’s more third person.

Or, you might end up in this book turned movie, I’m not sure:

Anyway, there are special problems with both point of views.

Issues with I Stories:

1.      You know the narrator is probably not going to die, so there isn’t that mortal danger worry.

2.      In first-person past tense it’s hard to keep it fresh, because the I of the story already knows what’s going to happen.

Good Things About I Stories:

1.      You can use the ‘peril detector.’

2.      The narrator’s fear moves the scene forward, increasing tension.

Issues with Third-Person Stories:

1.      Sometimes it’s harder to get you to care about the character. There. Sorry. I said it. Haters get at it.

2.      Sometimes, if you don’t do it well, switching around can actually ruin the tension and frustrate the reader.

Good Things about Third-Person Stories:

1.      You can set up what’s going to happen, the crisis, the conflict, the scary by switching back and forth between the good guy and bad guy.

2.      It’s very freeing.

I asked Editor Andrew Karre (currently executive editor at Dutton about first vs. third person.

Andrew said, “I think suspense is often important, but adding it to a manuscript tends to involve removing stuff and rearranging stuff. I think a clear, sequential, third-person story is rarely maximally suspenseful, so if suspense is in order, I think a meandering, unreliable first person is the way to go.”

Okay. Here are some take-away tips about adding suspense to your story.

They are summarized from an article by Vivian Gilbert Zabel, which is sourced below.

1. Make the main character someone you like but someone who can screw up. The reader has to care. If the reader doesn’t care about the character, the reader closes the book. If the character is perfect and can’t screw up? Then there’s no tension.

2. Make the plot a question and then “Make a list of all the possible reasons why the answer could be “no.” Those “no” answers become the focus of problems and obstacles – suspense,” Zabel says.

3. Make the hero have a really good reason for what she wants. Make her need.

4. Do that for the bad guy, too.  Stories like Harry Potter wouldn’t be nearly so fun if there wasn’t the possibility that the evil wizard Voldemort might kick everyone’s butts.

5. Make things harder and harder for the hero. Make it get worse.

6.  Pick the right POV for you and your story.

7.  Try to make the story urgent. Imagine a bomb ticking down before the explosion. Make the story a race against that.

And there you go! I hope all these blog posts on tension help you out a bit instead of making you more tense.


Luce, Carol. “Writing Suspense That’ll “Kill” Your Readers.” The Complete Book of Novel Writing. Ed 2002. Med Leder and Jack Heffrom. Cincinatti: Writers’ Digest Books, 2002.

Reynolds, William. “Keeping Them In Suspense.” The Complete Book of Novel Writing. Ed 2002. Med Leder and Jack Heffrom. Cincinatti: Writers’ Digest Books, 2002.

Article Source: 

Personal Interviews with Mark Del Franco, Andrew Karre, and Steven Wedel, Sept. 2008.

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What Makes a Story Awesome

I posted this back in June and I’m vaguely burnt out this week, plus I think it’s good advice, so I’m reposting it. Spoiler: I’m not vaguely burnt out. I’m pretty dragging.

It needs emotion.

Emotional tug and resonance. That’s a big key about what makes a story awesome, but there are a couple more important ingredients that you need to make your story shine bright like a diamond. Thanks Rihanna.

Your character has to have emotions and emotional reactions so that your reader has emotional reactions to what’s going on.

It needs conflict.

There needs to be a want and obstacles to the want.

It needs to be fresh.

When I wrote Tips on Having a Gay (Ex) Boyfriend, I was trying to understand a hate crime that I’d heard about, but I also was trying to write not from the point-of-view of the evil bully or the gay man. I decided to write from the point of view of the ex-girlfriend. It was a different angle. And it was picked up off the slush pile out of thousands of novels and published because it was fresh. And it won a IPPY award because of the same reason.

It needs to be believable.

It may end up being a story about a boy wizard, but it needs to start somewhere real, like ‘What if there were magical people and one of them was evil and killed the parents of a boy. But what if he didn’t die because his mother’s love was the greatest, strongest magic of all? And what if he survived to fight that wizard, eventually?” The what-ifs are a writer’s best weapon. But the premise needs to be based in something we all understand (or want to), which in that case was love.

Do Good Wednesday

So, since I have a tendency to come on people in stress and duress and since it’s my stepdad’s death-i-versary and he died of a heart attack, here is my do good Wednesday idea.

Take a CPR class.

It’s important. It helps. It can buy people time until an ambulance arrives or a defibrillator is there.

This link takes you to CPR classes run by the Red Cross, but there are so many places you can take them.



My next book, IN THE WOODS, appears in July with Steve Wedel. It’s scary and one of Publisher’s Weekly’s Buzz Books for Summer 2019. There’s an excerpt of it there and everything! But even cooler (for me) they’ve deemed it buzz worthy! Buzz worthy seems like an awesome thing to be deemed!

You can preorder this bad boy, which might make it have a sequel. The sequel would be amazing. Believe me, I know. It features caves and monsters and love. Because doesn’t every story?

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On February first, I launched my Patreon site where I’m reading chapters (in order) of a never-published teen fantasy novel, releasing deleted scenes and art from some of my more popular books. And so much more. Come hang out with me! Get cool things!

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A lot of you might be new to Patreon and not get how it works. That’s totally cool. New things can be scary, but there’s a cool primer HERE that explains how it works. The short of it is this: You give Patreon your paypal or credit card # and they charge you whatever you level you choose at the end of each month. That money supports me sharing my writing and art and podcasts and weirdness with you. 

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