The Importance Of Tension

Regardless of what genre you write one truth is universal for all writers: You must make the reader want to turn the page. The reason doesn't matter so much as the actual desire for them to do it. If you cannot keep them reading chances are they won't make it out of the store, or offline with your book in hand or downloaded.

How do you achieve that golden element needed in a novel? That's easy, tension. Okay, it's not that easy, but if you keep that one thing in mind at all times and work it into every page you will have succeeded. I know what you're thinking, 'no way Heather, I don't write thrillers, or suspense, or mystery (fill in any genre you like)'. But any book and every book has tension, because it must. Widen your definition of tension.

Grab any book off your shelf and read the first page. Now think about what made you want to turn it. Something was going to happen, something was at risk, or there was a key element you were dying to know. That's tension! Someone could be in physical peril, mental peril, a relationship could be at stake, or a life, but the imporant thing is something is happening. Tension doesn't have to be something huge, it can be something small if it's important to the character. Just as every page must have tension, every chapter should end with it as well. The reader has to look forward to finding something out when they come back. Will he kiss the girl? Will she survive the accident? Who killed the man? Will she dance with him? It doesn't have to be huge, just leave them wanting to know
Check out this Writer's Digest article on making your book a page turner:


  1. I agree, every novel has to have some degree of suspense. Readers love to dive into a book and get lost in the tangled lives of the characters.

  2. This is so true! I think it's the agent Donald Maass who's always talking about stakes--how you have to make the events in your plot vital. It's tougher than it sounds!

  3. It is tougher than it sounds isn't it? After learning this in a writer's retreat I realized there were several scenes of fluff I had to cut from my manuscript. It wasn't easy but it made it read much better and kept the pace moving along!

  4. I agree. It can be a simple as wanting to figure out what's going on, but there are so many books I set down in the store because they don't make me want to turn the first page. Or if I do turn the first page, I lose interest by the second. Tension must always be maintained.

  5. SO TRUE, girl! :) Thanks for the reminder... I find that as long as my characters have me all tied up in knots emotionally, then hopefully it's going to translate to my readers, too.

    Sigh. I miss having time to write. :( Hope it's going well for you!

  6. Tension is key. It goes hand in hand with conflict. I remember reading in a screenwriting book that there needs to be some sort of conflict in every scene and I try to keep that in mind when I am writing fiction as well.

  7. Lorel you do that too? I know the booksellers must hate it when it do that! LOL!

    You're right Krissi, when you're all tied up in knots by your story you've hit it spot on! Sorry you don't have the time to write lately :(

    I couldn't have said it better myself Alissa. Tension is key! Screenwriting and novel writing aren't so different in that aspect.


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