Increase 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.
The fifth way to add tension to your writing is to add an element of conflict. Oh, you say, you hate conflict. Then you’re thinking of it the wrong way. Conflict doesn’t only mean two people quarreling, although it can be that. It means two different entities in opposition to one another. Here are some examples:
Man vs. Man
Conflict can be between two people: children arguing over a toy, two adults wanting the same parking space, or a wife feeling neglected by her husband. But it can also be two people with opposite personalities placed in close proximity. Remember Oscar and Felix? One was a slob and the other a neatnik? How about two roommates at college, one is sophisticated, glamorous, the other overweight and athletic? Children who populate the family who have their own unique set of personality traits that naturally clash. Sitcoms do this all the time to great effect.
Even romance is a considered conflict. Two people who are attracted to one another, yet fearful of rejection, trying to get to know one another with everything at stake, their heart, their future. Will this work out, or won’t it? One of the reasons romances are so widely read is because of the “conflict” of romance. You might be writing a murder mystery or general fiction, but consider an element of romance to heighten the tension.
Conflict is also violent: murder, robbery, and even war. These topics populate modern literature, and even the Bible, for good reason. Readers pick sides. They have an inborn sense of justice and they want the good guys to win and the bad guys brought to justice. Don’t think you’d ever write anything like this? How about a third party stealing the beau in your romance novel, or your main character being accused unjustly of a misdeed in your mainstream novel?
(Next week I’ll talk about Man vs. Nature)