Episode 206: What’s Not Being Said and other kinds of tension

On November 12, 2022, Kasie and Rex took on the topic of tension in the book and the scene. Types, reasons, and how to. Here are the show notes:

Theme for the day

How to Create Tension in Scenes


  • Can you believe we’ve never done tension?
  • Why your story needs it
  • Different types of it
  • How to do it
Photo by cottonbro studio on Pexels.com

First, just as a head’s up, next week we’re going to do “writing isn’t easy so stop saying it is,” because our first resource for this show is yet another blog with the deceptively title using “simple ways” and let’s be clear: if writing was easy, everyone would do it. And they don’t.

But that’s for next week.

This week: Tension. And maybe there’s some tension here, frankly. I’m tired of people writing and podcasting about easy ways to do things because it’s not fucking easy. This is hard work. And if you sat down and dashed off a book and are ready to publish it then you’re either a skilled and practiced writer with dozens of manuscripts on your backlist and a methodology that rivals an NFL spring training camp, or your manuscript sucks and you just don’t know it.

But I digress. Tension.

We all want that book that people can’t put down. The story you’re reading that makes you say, “just one more chapter…” before I tend to my family, get dressed for work, or put that fire out in the kitchen. But these stories don’t happen by accident or whim or natural talent. They’re constructed brick by brick using sound storytelling techniques.

Something, by the way, Rex’s crappy movie pick for me, “The Doom Generation” totally lacks.

Segment 2

So how is it done? We’ll break down each of these steps, elaborate on them, and then give you the tips and tricks at the end.

  • Create a conflict crucial to your characters
  • Create engaging characters with opposing goals
  • Keep raising the stakes
  • Allow tension to ebb and flow
  • Keep making the reader ask questions
  • Create internal and external conflict
  • Create secondary sources of tension
  • Make the story unfold in a shorter space of time

Your Characters: crucial conflict and opposing goals.

So the advice I’m following lately requires conflict in every scene and that’s good advice because if you’re ever bored by a book or a segment it’s probably because it lacks conflict. But the trick is, and here’s where the work comes in, choosing what conflict to pursue in each scene.

Your characters’ opposing goals can provide an array of conflicts.

Conflicts that matter – even small conflicts (like being unprepared for class) can have big stakes (like being embarrassed when you’re called upon) depending on the character’s fears and anxieties.

We’ve done these conflicts before on Episode 197 and Episode 10

Segment 3/4

Conflict is the easiest way to create tension but what about types of tension?

This blog suggests these four types:

  • Relationships – friends arguing, will-they-or-wont-they romance, parents disciplining, passive aggression, competitors
  • Task – character trying to do something and failing at it, repeatedly if necessary
  • Surprise – something that surprises the character or the reader and shifts the plot; could be as benign as an unexpected visitor with bad news, or as wild as an alien spacecraft landing outside
  • Mystery – not to be confused with intentionally keeping things from the reader to lead them on; this tension is the hinted-at or implied, with the details arriving just in time; what the heck is happening? is different from the sense that something’s about to blow up.

How do we feel about those kinds of tension?

Kasie’s four kinds of tension:

  1. What is being said
  2. What is not being said
  3. What is being done
  4. What is not being done.

There’s a feeling about tension – anticipation and excitement are fun, fear and dread of fun, 

On this week’s Behind the Scenes for Patrons:

Ways to increase the tension:

  • Don’t let your characters get what they want
  • Make the character’s situation worse
  • Increase the consequences of failure

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