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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best thrillers The People Who Kill
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The Dude Goodfeather Series - YA mystery by NYT bestseller Carrie Jones
The Dude Goodfeather Series – YA mystery by NYT bestseller Carrie Jones



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Thrill Me, Baby. Thrill Me. Let’s Talk About Story Tension.

My first three books are hardly suspenseful in that Marvel movie way. There are no car chases. There are no end-of-the-world scenarios. They’re stories about identity and love with a little angst thrown in the side. They aren’t even in the typical story’s narrative arc.

So, you’re probably wondering why I’m blogging about suspense.

Because I like it.

I’m one of those writers who likes to try new things… ALL THE TIME. I am very easily bored, so back in 2008, I thought about what one of the hardest things for me to do would be. The answer was easy: WRITE SOMETHING SUSPENSEFUL.

And because of that? It’s why my NEED series was created.

It was hard. It was SO hard. But worth it. My first attempt (while not up at the suspense level of Stephen King or that guy who writes those books that become Tom Cruise movies) came out with Bloomsbury. It’s called NEED.

So when I was trying to figure out to do, I found a great article by Carol Davis Luce called WRITING SUSPENSE THAT’LL KILL YOUR READERS. For a couple of weeks, I’m going to talk about Carol’s points and hopefully expand on them.

And I’m inserting some old photos of my daughter, Em, and our old dog Tala to make it fun.

So, how do we write something suspenseful? 

The first part is tension.

Tension is what keeps us reading.

Tension is what keeps us reading at 3 a.m. when we have to get up at 6 a.m. and go to school or work.

Tension is what makes us read a book while walking between classes. It makes us ignore the hottie across the cafeteria or even in our own bedroom. It makes us ignore the cute doggy next to us, the one who really wants to get walked.

Tala the Big, White Dog says, “I am the cute dog she’s talking about.”

Poor Tala.


Without it, a book gets put back on the shelf, abandoned on the kitchen counter, forgotten in a locker, or possibly flushed down the toilet. Without it, dogs get walked.

According to Luce, “Tension is the act of building or prolonging a crisis. It’s the bump in the night, the ticking bomb; it’s making readers aware of peril.”

Or it’s what William J Reynolds calls, “I gotta know!”

Why Do Readers Keep Reading?

Your readers keep reading because the need to know what happens next is there. The tension is there. He calls a story without suspense “like coffee without caffeine – no kick and not very addicting.”

So, that’s what we’re going to be talking about for a couple of blog posts: Tension. Suspense. How to turn nice, normal readers into addicts who will open that door in your book (I mean turn the page) no matter what horrors might be there or what dogs might resent it.

The next few entries will be about techniques to put the tension back into your love life… Oops, I mean your stories. Your written down stories! Geesh. I’m sorry I couldn’t find anything to read last night and I had to read some book about love and relationships by the guy who started Eharmony. I have no idea how it got in my house, but it’s obviously impacted me.

Anyway, stay with me, and we’ll interview horror novelist Steven Wedel and some others. It should be a fun, tension-filled couple of posts.

Carrie: So tell me Tala, what do you think about suspense?
Tala: Woof.

Carrie: You think it’s over-rated?
Tala: Woof. Woof! Snort. Kashow. Yip. Woof!

Carrie: You think that a dog’s life is hard enough and that the suspense of when we are going to actually take a walk… that suspense… that suspense is killing you and therefore I should stop blogging about how to put suspense in stories? 
Tala: Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr…..

Carrie: Okay. Um, where’s your leash?

Tala: Good human. Good. Finally you get it.

*One of the biggest tensions may be whether or not I get all these posts up and posted.


My little novella (It’s spare. It’s sad) is out and it’s just $1,99. It is a book of my heart and I am so worried about it, honestly.

There’s a bit more about it here.


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