Good morning from Gail Gaymer Martin.

I hope you’re enjoying the summer as I have been, always busy but loving what I do.

For the past few posts from me, we’ve been looking at the writing elements of Tension and Conflict. Today we’ll look at Part 4 dealing with tension as a response to action. So let’s go.

While conflict is action between people, ideas, or needs, tension is the response to that action. It is the emotion that drives the story. Tension shows urgency, requires choices, and leaves the reader with questions. Donald Maass in Fire In Fiction refers to Micro-Tension which is an inherent sense of tension built into the novel with the use of your writing style.

Moment By Moment
Provide a step by step view of the scene, especially in suspense, that keeps readers in a state of tension as to what will happen. Think of an old John Wayne movie: two gunman facing each other. Focus on eyes of the good guy/eyes of the bad guy, focus on pistol in holster of both, shifting of their stance, fidgeting fingers, long distance view of the gunman facing each other, close up of a tick in the cheek of one, muscle jerk of another, motion, gun from holster, shot.

With each movement you will enhance the tension. This can be done in any novel in a dramatic scene by detailing the scrap of a chair on the floor, table tips as he rises, women steps back and hand reaching for a kitchen drawer, man’s feet moving toward her, drawer opens, man reaches for her, her hand plunges into the drawer, man attacks, knife flashes, bloody shirt, man falls, woman screams.

You get the idea. Focus on each step, but only use this for scenes of drama that make a dynamic move forward in the plot.

More Than Details
Along with the moment by moment action, provide moment by moment details of emotion. Show how the main character responds to the action as it unfolds, and notice I said show and not tell. Use the body’s response such as: intake of breath, trembling, wrenching heart, galloping pulse. Use small pieces of introspection but give them a first person feeling. He can’t do this to me. I will not let him win. She won’t treat me like this again. Use introspection sparingly.

Sense Of Foreboding
Leave readers with the feeling that more is there than they can see. Use subtle foreshadowing, leave sentences unended or questions unanswered, struggles unspoken but the reader feels them. Use situation that involves the senses—gooseflesh, pricking sensation up the spine, head spinning. Creating the feeling of ESP for the character or the reader who anticipates something is going to happen.

Anxiety And Twists
Create anxiety and twists to the “normal.” Man walks into his office and the room is empty. Rattled by problems, woman drives to pick up her child at school, but he’s not there. Person plans a party and no one shows up. Fourth of July celebration and it rains.

It can be small to knee-jerking twists, but put them in your novels to create tension.

Conflicting Emotions
Life produces conflicting emotions. A man wants a promotion but realizes it will take away time from his family life. Woman wants to have a child but realizes it will affect her career. Man wants to prove he’s innocent of a crime but must put the blame on a friend. Dieter faces her favorite dessert and struggles. Emotions in real life are often conflicting. Look in your own life and take note of what you struggle with. If you struggle, then so do many others. Work these kinds of conflicting tensions into your novels.

Emotions are often conflicting when someone is reluctant to accept or believe what they see, hear or feel. If you see a friend’s husband in a restaurant with another woman, you have conflicting emotions. Is this a romantic dinner? Is it really him or a look alike? Do you tell your friend or do you pretend that you didn’t see it? Each decision has with it inherent problems.

Another reluctance to accept or believe something comes with the character’s flaws. He is impatient, but does not accept that he is. She is fifty-nine but behaves as she did when she was twenty-one. He steals from his company but thinks he deserves the “bonus.”

Whether it’s facing our own conflicting emotions or dealing with someone else’s issues, tension is created for the character and the reader. Build these techniques into your basic story structure.


For a novel using good examples of tension and conflict, take a look at my latest release, Treasures of Her Heart, a romance mystery, set in the lovely town of Petoskey, Michigan and  available on Amazon as a tradebook or eBook. Once on Amazon, you can click on the photo and have the opportunity to read a long excerpt on the first chapter. Enjoy. Learn more  when you click this link:  Treasures of Her Heart on Amazon

(c) Gail Gaymer Martin 2014


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