You’ve probably heard about tension and know it’s a big deal, maybe even the biggest deal in storytelling, but why? What is tension, and why is it so important to storytelling?
The following was taken from How to Create Tension a great article that covers all the bases of this all-important narrative element.
Why Is Tension Important?
As Alfred Hitchcock said, “There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.”
Tension is building up to a bang. Conflict may provide that bang, but you can’t have conflict in every scene because that would be chaotic, exhausting, and ultimately more desensitizing than satisfying.
Writing a novel or any long work is 90% building up anticipation and 10% dropping bombs. Therefore, tensions is imperative if you want to keep your audience reading for long. If they aren’t constantly asking what will happen next, how can you expect them to invest in your story or care about the bomb drop in the next chapter or an ending hundreds of pages later? You can’t. They didn’t agree to that.
A story typically builds tension from the very beginning by asking one big question that’s vital to the outcome of the story. This is called the dramatic question, and everything else in your story revolves around it.
So how do you create tension in your own stories? Start by identifying the dramatic question and then begin developing a plot that creates a series of sequences or tension and release arcs all leading up to and escalating the the final climax and release. This will answer your dramatic question once and for all.
Useful plot devices for creating tension:
Ticking Clock: Will your character complete his mission before time runs out?
Ironic Tension: Will the character figure out what the audience already knows?
Dramatic Tension: What will happen on the page right now?
Sexual Tension: Will they or won’t they?
In Media Res: How did these characters get here?
Of course, all questions need answers. Answering the most immediate question is a release that concludes a particular arc within your story before you move onto the next. This release is as important as the tension itself because you don’t want to leave your readers hanging forever or keep them in the dark so long they just give up and stop reading. The trick is to ask a question, answer it, and then that answer leads to another question and another tension and release arc until your dramatic question is finally answered.
In the end, you want the tension and releases arcs of your story to look something like this:
Read the full article on DeviantArt here.