How to Add Tension to Your Story

When we think about our favorite books, the ones that left us breathless and turning pages at 3 in the morning, we need to talk about tension. Tension is what kept us up waiting to see what happened next. Tension is the anticipation a reader feels waiting for each outcome of the story. So how do we add tension to our stories? Let’s take a look.

The first step to storytelling is the hero has to have a goal. They must want something and move towards accomplishing that. Then conflict occurs, obstacles to the hero getting what she wants are introduced. These stumbling blocks make the story. And these two combine to add tension to the story. The first thing you want to keep in mind is not to give the reader too much information that leads to spilling the beans on the outcome and therefore killing your tension. Let bad things happen to your hero and let your hero fail. If your hero always wins there’s no tension. The reader knows the hero will win against anything that happens to them so what’s the point of reading on? Easy wins equal a boring read.

Have your characters fight. Nothing is more boring than everyone getting along. Add tension to the relationships between your characters. Make the story world imperfect. Flaws in society will cause even more conflict for your characters, which equals tension. Up the ante. Raise the stakes for the character and double the tension. Make your hero struggle to obtain his goal. Struggle makes for suspense which feeds your tension. And finally, don’t wrap things up early. Leave resolutions for the very last moment, if not the end. If one conflict must be resolved, introduce a new conflict first, before you wrap things up.

Adding tension to your story will help make it one of those page turners we all love so keep these tips in mind as you work on your WiP. What tips do you have for creating tension in your stories? Comment below and happy writing.

Julia

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On Strong Female Characters

Today I wanted to talk about female characters and more specifically how to write strong female characters. Now strong female characters have warped into their own cliché and stereotyped forms of the kick-ass heroine who would rather knock you out than talk to you. So how do we give strength to our female characters without the stereotypes? Let’s take a look.

Key elements

  • Write people first and women second. Your character is a human first and foremost.
  • She has to have a goal that affects the plot significantly. She has to have a purpose other than being the love interest.
  • She is flawed and complex. Humans aren’t perfect and neither should our characters be, no matter how strong they are.
  • She has a dynamic arc, meaning she changes and grows as a character from beginning to end.
  • She has agency. Things don’t just happen to her, she makes decisions for herself that drive the plot forward.

One misconception people have about strong female characters is that strong equals masculine. But strong isn’t just about fighting and keeping up with the boys. Your strong female doesn’t have to hate all things girly. Liking girly things doesn’t make her weak. And making her super good at “guy” stuff for no reason doesn’t make her strong either. There are different types of strong from the physical to cleverness to being a good leader to strong communication skills. Value her strengths over her beauty and use different types of strength to empower your female characters.

Don’t turn her into any object, sexual or otherwise. She should never be the prize for any character to win and most strong women are not overtly sexual in order to manipulate others. And what is she like when she isn’t kicking ass? Don’t forget to give her a personality to go along with all those “strong female” characteristics. Stay away from the clichéd troubled past that makes her closed off and a jerk until she learns how to let people in. We want our characters to be relatable so make sure they’re not a jerk who people somehow still like and put up with. And strong women can and do cry. Emotional strength isn’t about never crying. She’s a human, not a robot.

Stay away from stereotypes and clichés when writing truly strong female characters and remember strength comes in many forms. What stereotypes of strong female characters do you hate? Did I miss anything crucial in building a strong female character? Let me know in the comments below and happy writing.

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How to Develop a Writing Routine

Have you ever tried a writing routine? These can be great in helping to keep writer’s block at bay and keep the words flowing. It’s important to create a habit and stick to it. Let’s look at some tips for starting a writing routine.

Give up your guilty pleasures, at least while you are writing. Close the Netflix and sit down to write. You don’t have to give up your favorite shows for good. Instead schedule in breaks from your writing where you can indulge in an episode, just don’t devolve into watching the entire season instead of writing.

Just write. Don’t spend hours or days daydreaming about your story or fall into the researching rabbit hole. At some point you actually have to write. Set aside specific times to research each week.

Find the space and time where you work best and show up to it every day. You have to make writing a habit by doing it consistently. It will be difficult at first, but the words will come if you do. Devote at least an hour a day to writing.

Be organized. Schedule your writing and researching days each week and stick to your schedule. Organize all your notes and character sheets for easy use and access.

Schedule in breaks either by time or word count. Get up and stretch, take a walk, check your Facebook page, or watch an episode of your show. Reward yourself and then get back to work.

Protect your writing time. Life happens, but if you’re letting everything else keep you from writing, you’re not a writer. Writers write, so make writing a priority.

Do Not edit as you go. Get the story down and save the critiquing for later when it’s time to edit. Just create.

Have a goal. Whether its write for an hour or getting 1000 words down, a goal will help motivate you to get started and for accomplishing your goals.  Aim for something tangible and get started.

Remember it takes time to develop a habit, but once you do you’ll see your productivity rise. Do you have any writing rituals or routines? Comment below and happy writing.

Julia

Follow me on Our Write Side and on Twitter for more tips and inspiration and find me on Facebook for weekly stories and prompts.

How to Write a Killer Plot Twist

There’s nothing quite like a big plot twist that changes a whole story’s meaning in the big reveal. But plot twists are not an easy device to write, so let’s take a closer look at what a killer plot twist must and must not do.

Musts

  • Plot twists must be inventive and original. Eliminate the obvious endings that are predictable and easy for the reader to see coming. Plot twists must surprise your reader. Think of 5 different possible endings and then go with the 6th or 10th.
  • Have a good setup. You have to foreshadow and plant clues for the reader without drawing attention to them (or by drawing attention away from them by using red herrings). Redirect suspicion.
  • Advance the plot. They have to be an integral part of the plot, not just there. Ask yourself why is this deception going on? What does it add to the story once revealed? If you can take out your plot twist without changing the story, you’re doing it wrong. Integrate it into the plot.
  • Have a purpose. Just like the twist should be a part of the story it has to have a plot purpose. The twist should change everything the reader has previously known so that the whole story is now seen from a completely different perspective.
  • Create interesting story situations. This way even if your reader does figure out the twist they will still be excited to see it all unfold.
  • Be re-readable. You want your story to be re-readable so make sure your story is complex and interesting without the twist. Don’t make the twist everything.
  • Have an unreliable narrator. This isn’t exactly a must, but is used commonly to mislead and misdirect the reader by having an unreliable narrator.

Must Nots

  • No tricks. Don’t use dreams to explain away a dramatic setup. Readers will feel cheated and put down your book. They also kill your suspense and tension because the threat perceived wasn’t real. Don’t let your reader down.
  • Don’t just pull the rug out from under your readers, pull it out from under your characters as well. The emotional tension will add depth and tension to your story.
  • Avoid the obvious. Otherwise readers will wonder why the characters haven’t figured it out yet.
  • Don’t go for shock factor. The twist has to be believable with what has been happening in the plot. Keep the twist integral to the plot.

Plot twists require a lot of planning and clever writing, but are definitely worth it. Take these tips and try writing your own plot twist. Have you tried writing plot twists before? What did you struggle with? What worked for you? Share in the comments below and happy writing.

Julia

Follow my weekly column at Our Write Side and subscribe to the first issue of OWS Ink which features a short story by yours truly. Also find me on Twitter and Facebook for weekly prompts and inspiration.