Tag Archives: Christian fiction

7 Ways to Increase Tension in Your Writing (Goal Setting)

Pumpkins on Bale of HayGive you main character a goal and raise the tension. This will keep your reader engaged in your story. The harder the goal is to achieve, the higher the suspense. The more personal the goal, the more the reader cares. For instance, if your detective is solving a murder of an unknown person in a large city who he doesn’t know, then we care less than if he’s solving the murder of his son. We care more if the hero is saving someone he loves, than if he is saving an unknown “them.” Continuously raise the stakes. If the character fails to reach the goal, what will happen? Will they go back to life as normal, or will they face death? The closer to death and ruin you can make their failure, the better.

Outer story goal: Every novel has a goal. Maria finds her true love. Our hero reaches the Fifth Dimension and saves the Kingdom from destruction. The detective figures out who killed the old lady who lived in the shoe. A daughter reconciles with her family after years of infighting.

Inner story goal: Our characters also need a personal goal whether it’s stated clearly or not. Maria overcomes her fear of becoming involved in another relationship and falls in love again. Our hero learns brave means facing his fears and acting in spite of them. The detective must restore his faith in himself. The daughter who never felt loved discovers Christ’s unconditional love and healing.

Scene goal: Every scene must also have a goal. If you can’t write it out in a simple sentence then you either don’t have one, or are trying to do too much.


Goal: All the character wants to do is mail a letter without running into anyone she knows.

Complication: As soon as this goal is stated, the reader fears/suspects what is going to happen.  String this out as long as you can. Let her even mail the letter, think she’s home safe, and then have a nosey neighbor pop up.

Goal: Detective goes to a home to face the antagonist.

Complication: Suspect is at home and he has a big gun. Suspect is at home, but detective learns he couldn’t possibly have done the dirty deed. Suspect isn’t at home, thus leaving the detective to make another stop.

Goal: MC needs a raise so he can ask his girl (the boss’s daughter) to marry him. He goes into office and asks the boss for a raise.

Complication: Boss can say yes, but this would take away the tension. The boss could say no, thus throwing MC into tailspin—this is good. But what is even better is if the boss says, “Yes, but . . .” Yes, but he’ll have to take the dirtiest job in the company. Yes, but he’ll have to transfer to a small town in Idaho. Yes, but he can’t have anything to do with his daughter.

Caution: If you set a goal, you need to have the character reach it at some point during the novel. You can put it off for a few chapters—searching for a new pet, a new place to live, the perfect cup of coffee, a lost dog, but readers will notice (and complain) if you don’t bring this goal to a close.

7 Ways to Increase Tension in Your Writing (Man vs. Himself)

Aidan's First B'day 012Increase tension by pitting your character against himself. Give her an inner struggle like depression, fears of all kinds, alcoholism, self-esteem issues, forgetfulness, or some other quirky trait. These can add depth to personality but also tension as we watch the character struggle to overcome her flaws in order to solve the mystery, get her man, or reach her goal.

Consider giving your MC a physical limitation. Our world is populated with handicapped people, yet, we often have novels that never touch that topic. In my current novel, one of my characters is a double amputee. Yes, it takes research, but it has added a dimension to my writing and tension to the final scene. Check out Dick Francis, who wrote about the world of horse racing. He was a master at this.

Have a dull scene and want to spice it up? Have your character make a simple decision. Tuna salad or clam chowder for lunch? Slacks or a skirt to work? Or have her hunting for the keys, or a file, or cell phone.

Stretch a decision out. Will she quit her job? Will she buy that expensive purse she saw on the Internet? Why have it happen quickly. Let the answer linger for a couple of chapters.

If this has triggered idea, share them here.

Deadly Writing Mistake #5: Using Cliches (Part Two)

Clichés can also be an overused idea.

Have you ever read a novel and thought, I’ve read this storyline before? Some common plot lines I’ve seen in my years of being a writing teacher and contest judge are:
1) a woman goes home for her class reunion and meets her high school sweetheart,
2) a chemical company is polluting a small town’s water and people are dying of cancer,
3) an old woman (or man) is suspected of being mean in a children’s book, but in the end, the character discovers she is really nice. I’ll bet you can add to this list.

Settings can also become cliché-like. Examples include: conversations that take place in a restaurant, at a kitchen table, or while driving in a car. Why not spice up your book by picking an unusual place for those dialogues? Why not use an attraction like a park or museum or special place that shows off the uniqueness of town where you’ve set your novel? In Seattle we have Pike Place Market, the Space Needle, and ferries. Or give your character an unusual occupation and hold the conversation while he’s putting on scuba gear, butchering a hog, or climbing out of a combine.

Most of us use clichés of setting, plot, and description without realizing it. We grab for them when we are in a hurry. They may even feel fresh, like something no one has ever written about before because we’re writing about something that happened to us. Or we do it because we’re trying to meet a deadline.

The best way to guard against clichés is to read, read, read, especially in your genre. If you write murder mysteries, you will soon discover common themes, settings, plots and you will soon learn to avoid them.

Also, take time and dig deeper into your creative mind. Even a cliché can become fresh if you find a new way to approach it. The woman who goes home to her high school reunion is a common story line for a reason. Many women have this fantasy and want to read about scenarios such as this. The challenge is to put a new twist on an old familiar theme.

Can you name a cliché you’ve seen recently?