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July 16, 2018


Below are some of the things I try to keep in mind when adding tension to a scene I am writing…


When creating a character, make us “care” about them. Let us know something they desperately want.

… and then do everything you can to STOP them getting it.


Immediate tension. Add in stakes… for example, a ticking clock.



  • Stakes raise the tension.
  • Stakes raise drama.
  • Stakes create emotion and make your heart race.
  • Stakes get the reader INVOLVED in the story.


Action scenes

  • Short sentences.
  • No long descriptions.
  • Describe physical reactions (racing heart, stomach swirling, sweaty palms).

But Action is easy tension.


Non-action can create tension too… it can be emotional.

  • Non-action can be anticipation. For example, searching for a lost pet or seeing a bully across the playground, or maybe standing in line to get on a roller-coaster.


Words and sentence structure.

The plot can move fast. Things happen fast. Short sentences. Sharp movements. Actions “snap, jerk, leap, bolt…”

OR it can move slowly with a lot of anticipation, by using longer sentences that give us more emotional impact. A character may be counting down the seconds until a balloon pops. Searching for a lost toy… knowing the baby will wake up at any moment.

BOTH can work to create tension in a story. Mix them up for a great story.



Write a short scene and include some of the above points.

  • Seeing a bully across the playground.
  • Breaking Nana’s prized decorative plate, and she’s walking in the door.
  • Scratching Dad’s car, and he comes home already in a bad mood.
  • It’s two minutes until the buzzer and the basketball comes your way.
  • You have a job interview, and get to the platform as your train leaves.
  1. Gwen Plano permalink

    Very helpful list, Laurie. Thank you!

    • I find it helps me to go over things like this for each book I write. I figured, maybe it might help others too 😊

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