Last week, we discussed the basic development of tension in our novels.
Today, we’re diving deeper. What strengthens the existent tension? I think the answer is really two-fold.
1.) The cost. Great novels force readers to invest. Have you ever heard someone say make your characters likable? They’re saying that to help increase your tension. When a reader likes the character in a story, they become invested in the problem. Thus, they must keep reading to discover a solution for that character. See, our readers weigh the risk of the conflict against the likability of the character. If the stakes are high, they keep reading. But if one of these two categories falters, we most likely have disappointed or lost an audience.
2.) The wait. This is the plot-arc. It starts with your characters, the conflict, the cost, but then it changes and develops. Sub-plots complicate the problem, and all the while, your reader is forced to wait. Yes, that’s right…it’s perhaps the most powerful tool in a writer’s back pocket, and yet, it is often overlooked. Within that sagging middle, your reader is forced to wait. Their anxiety, their eagerness to solve the conflict grows during this time. That’s why readers love books. Great novels can utilize this syndrome by taking the sagging middle and transforming it with sub-plots and complications. At every turn, the conflict becomes unsolvable, anxiety increases, the stakes heighten. And just when it seems no solution can present itself, that’s when your happily-ever-after strikes.
Stories that follow this formula capture readers. Find your favorite novel and study how the author used the cost and wait to draw you in further. In the meantime, keep writing!