Tension is, ” The act of stretching or the condition of being stretched tight.”
(Funk and Wagnalls Standard College Dictionary)
I have “tension” on my mind, not just because I brew it, tease it and dream of it every day, as a writer of Romantic Suspense, but because I’m taking an online course and studying it at the moment (a Killer Instincts Course with Kris Kennedy). My goal is to be able to wield “tension” like a sword in my stories. Hold my reader’s gasping attention to the last sentence. Like Alfred Hitchcock, without the canon.
My course has lots of words in it and that’s educational. But I need to get to the essence of tension. I need to render it down to its bones. So far my equation reads: captivating characters + emotional conflict + ticking clock = tension. Does that work for you?
What about setting? Hmmm. I just have to look at a haunted house, or a shower in a hotel room and I get tense. Is setting a skeletal bone of tension? I often think of it as an active character in a story. I can also see it covered in the word conflict because it helps create it. I don’t think it needs to be added. But maybe.
I’m fascinated by how a simple line can create tension like: “In all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.”
With lines like that, everyone turns the page.