This year at ACFW, I met with agents to present my book proposal. During my appointment, the agent wanted to know how my story developed–What roadblocks stood between the two main characters?
In light of this, over the next three weeks, we’re discussing tension. How can we develop rising tension in our stories? What makes for great conflict? And why do some books miss their target?
Let’s start at the very beginning…tension must:
1.) Hook the reader on page one. Your reader needs a problem to draw them into the story. Make a part of your conflict evident in this scene.
2.) Prepare for your characters to endure the worst scenario. This means you may have to sever emotional attachments. Sometimes as authors, we grow to love the “people” in our stories. Don’t get me wrong, this is good! Your reader will love them too, but great tension requires we sever these attachments at least for a time. Our characters must persevere through a struggle, so prepare for suffering. Your story needs emotional turmoil.
3.) Use the unexpected. Plan for surprise turns. Your reader will enjoy the ride. Take them places least expected.
4.) Have direction. Your roller-coaster should follow the tracks. Don’t dive off into oblivion. This will annoy the reader. Have an end target and aim towards it…even if it’s distant. This keeps your story focused.
Readers enjoy the happily-ever-after, but before getting to that point, we have to take them on a journey. Tension is a huge part of that process, and sometimes it takes the least-expected turns to make a sub-par story a best-seller.