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.

Easier said than done.

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.

Author: Jo-Ann Carson

About Jo-Ann Carson Where magic happens … Reports of Jo-Ann Carson’s death on a Gulf Island are greatly exaggerated or, at the very least, premature. The eclectic crew of ghosts that haunt her head spill onto the page in two series: The Gambling Ghosts and The Ghost & Abby Mysteries. A Viking with existential issues, a broken hearted Highlander, a Casanova man-witch and a Pirate with a secret are just a few of the males her strong heroines encounter in tales of fantasy, adventure and romance. A firm believer in the magic of our everyday lives, Jo-Ann loves watching sunrises, walking beaches near her home in the Pacific Northwest and reading by the fire. You can visit her on social media: Website * Blog * Twitter * Facebook

8 thoughts on “Tension”

  1. I don’t remember anyone telling me writing was such hard work. I mean I thought the words just flowed from the key board to the screen to a pubbed book–willy nilly.:) I have learned that is not the case–thus all the classes. Thank heavens for the classes.
    I also have struggled wiith tension, Jo-Ann, and I took Linda Style’s Bootcamp for Novelists class titled Escalating Consequences. (I’ve taken others of hers, which are all good.) She expalined the way to up the tension was first to have a character the readers cared about then to have that character face decisions. Each decision has results, which then lead to other decisions, the consequences growing each time. (Apologies to Linda for any errors here. I’m just summarrizing as I got it.) I know in real life the most difficult decisions are ususally when we have to choose between two bads. Choosing between a good and a bad is much easier.
    I like your equation. I think it fits with what I got from Linda.
    Thanks for this post, Jo-Ann. It reminds me to go back and study book 4 from this standpoint. Geez. I’ve got to spend less time with blogs and more time on edits. LOL


    1. Marsha,
      Linda’s bootcamp sounds awesome. Some courses I like more than others. I like playing around with ideas about tension. It’s so fundamental to what we do.
      Thanks for stopping by and adding to the discussion.
      Happy editing:)


  2. To me there can be tension in a setting, in dialogue, emotional tension and just the build up in the various conflicts that drive the plot. I like Marsha’s hints about making your characters have to make a choice, but with two difficult decisons.
    I guess I hope that by choosing my hero and heroine to be opposite in personalities, I can depend on that problem to start making trouble….or at least add to the tension from the beginning.
    Love the blog!


    1. Hi Mi
      I love how you play your hero and heroine off against each other. You make it look easy…and it does fire up the tension.
      Thanks for coming by and adding to the conversation.
      Happy Writing


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