Today I’m starting a week long basic writing series. I thought I would start with one of the most important aspects of story telling-tension. Sure, stories need characters and setting and a plot but if you don’t have tension, everything else is going to be flat. Boring.
Tension is really what keeps people reading. If there are risks, if your character needs to achieve something, you’re much more likely to have people stick with your characters. So how do you accomplish this?
There are a lot of techniques out there, but the easiest way for me, is to give my character a goal. Make your character want something. It can be anything, simple or difficult. Maybe they have always dreamed of being a rock star or they just want to cross the street. Readers want to see someone accomplishing something, or at least trying. Give them what they want.
This is just the first step though. The real key to building tension is putting obstacles in between your character and the goal(s) they want to accomplish. More obstacles=more tension. Just don’t go too crazy or your story won’t be believable.
I’m going to give you an example just to try and clarify my point. We will start with a character, let’s call him Character X, for now. And let’s pretend he wants something. Maybe he’s hungry and wants to get something to eat. I could just show him eating a sandwich, but instead I’m going to show him trying to get a bite to eat. Maybe Character X goes to the fridge first but his fridge is empty. There’s his first obstacle. In order to overcome that obstacle, he has to leave his house. And the story just became slightly more interesting. Once he leaves the house to go to the store, he tries to start his car but the car won’t start. There’s another obstacle to achieving his goal. And a little more tension is added. I think you get the idea.
Every road block you throw at your character helps move the story forward, because you force you character to make choices. And that’s what makes stories interesting. Characters need to make decisions, take risks. Otherwise books would just be long, descriptive messes. Tension will allow your character to shine and help your plot develop. It’s what moves things forward and what keeps them interesting. So please, please, please make life as difficult as possible for your characters. They will be much better people for it.