HOW TO BUILD DRAMATIC TENSION – TUESDAY WRITING TIP

Before I start writing, I mind map to work out who my characters are and what's going to happen to them.

I’m a plotter. I work out who my characters are before I begin writing. I decide what’s going to happen to them, and how it’s going to happen. I’m not one of those people who starts with an idea and then meanders towards the end.

I’m currently working on the first book in a YA psychological thriller trilogy, and as I headed towards the end of my first draft, I realized that I had perfectly followed the map I’d designed before I started.

I had taken my MC to all the places I intended to take her, but my story still seemed to lack dramatic tension.

That’s when I realized that I had lots of interesting things happening in the story, but it lacked two major ingredients that were kind of related.

1.            It lacked a strong climax; one where my character had been placed in extreme danger, where the stakes were so high that the reader would wonder if she’d survive.

2.            I had threatened danger, but I hadn’t put my character in harm’s way enough.

Your story can having engaging characters, powerful themes and an interesting story line but if it lacks dramatic tension, it loses the reader.

To build dramatic tension, you need to put important questions in the readers mind. Will the main character survive this event? How will they survive it? You must lead your reader to the brink, make them think there is no way out for the MC; that they can’t possibly survive this. Then it’s up to you, the author to work out how they do.

So after discovering that my story was ‘interesting’ but not mind blowing, I went back to look for dramatic tension.

If things aren't working in your story, go back and re-plot. Using sticky labels allows you to add things and change the order of events.

To do this, I returned to my original plot diagram and realized that although I had increasing action, I had hinted at danger, but not put the character in a situation that she might not survive.

I don’t think it’s ever too late to go back and re-plot parts of your story. Or to look at each scene and decide whether it really moves the story forward. Does it put your main character even further in danger? Does it make the risk of failure more deadly?

After going back and asking myself the sorts of questions I wanted to be in the mind of the reader, I re-plotted the climax of my story and raised the stakes for my character. The result was, more dramatic tension into my manuscript.

Happy writing.

Dee:-)

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8 thoughts on “HOW TO BUILD DRAMATIC TENSION – TUESDAY WRITING TIP

  1. Ahh yes, words of wisdom, Dee, and guaranteed to make more work for a writer, lol. But you’re totally right, dramatic tension is essential.
    Another problem seems to be that sometimes we don’t see that this is not happening. Maybe too close to the story? That’s why one needs a cluey writing buddy to recognise and help lift the maze of plotlines from one’s eyes. 🙂

  2. Hey Dee

    This is one of my biggest first draft flaws too – and going back and fixing it is hard!

    Your way of creating a story seems to make this look easy with your bubbles, and stickies – but I know that you work lots on this and that it takes alot to manage to go over the plot again, and ‘ip the ante’.

    Wahoo for firstly recognising that your book needed more ‘angst’ and secondly that you are going back into it and fixing it up, not settling for second best!

    Loving watching your journey of this book from the side lines, feel a bit like a fly on the wall in that beautiful room in the city!

    Bye 4 now
    Tina

  3. Hi Dee, I’ve just discovered your blog and I’ve been reading all the amazing post you wrote 🙂 Thanks for the advice; I’m a plotter too, I don’t know how many post-its I use while I try to figure out where the story is going and how each scene is going to help the story move forward.
    I’m currently writing my fist draft and I know there are many mistakes and flaws at this point but like you said on your post, I’m trying to keep in mind that “it’s never too late to go back and re-plot parts of your story.”

  4. I’m currently in a revising stage, so this post came at a great time for me. I love the second picture with the sticky notes; I’m going to try that!

    Thanks for a great post, Dee! Happy writing to you, too!

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