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Karen S. Wiesner, Tension and Twists, Part 3 (Writer's Craft Article)

Writer's Craft Article by Karen S. Wiesner  

Tension and Twists, Part 3 

Based on COHESIVE Story BUILDING (formerly titled FROM FIRST DRAFT TO FICTION NOVEL {A Writer's Guide to Cohesive Story Building}) by Karen S. Wiesner 

This is the final post focusing on how (and why) to build tension and twists into your fiction.

Release and downtime are also absolutely necessary in every story. But only with a cohesive logic in the build-up of downtime, suspense, and black moment, and with an equally meshed logical resolution, will your reader be left satisfied and smiling upon closing the book. This in no way, however, means that you can’t throw a twist in at the end of your story—provided that it fits logically and cohesively with what you’ve already set up in the beginning and middle of the book. In this article, I'll provide tips for incorporating effective tension and twists into your fiction. 

Tips for Creating Tension and Suspense

·                     Use doubt to create suspense. The unknown is the “it” factor when creating suspenseful novels—and novels must indeed be suspenseful or your readers will have nothing to stick around for. If you can truly make your characters (and readers) believe that the main Character will never reach his goals, you’ll have succeeded in creating a book that absolutely can’t be put down. Involving the reader means making sure that your story is cohesive enough to draw him inexplicably in, right where you want him. A cohesive story will never allow the reader to become too comfortable. 

·                     Let mood and senses create the atmosphere you need for suspense.Remember that mood is a carefully constructed means of building suspense. Essentially, it’s a springboard with limited purpose. In order to sustain it, you must involve the reader. Prepare for it with cohesive characters, setting, and plot, then use all of the senses to build the appropriate tone. You wouldn’t want a slapstick tone in a drama any more than you’d want a sensual tone in playful story intended for children. 

Mood (or tone) is a carefully constructed means to build tension and suspense, and the mood almost always fits the genre, though of course the mood of an individual scene is more changeable. Science fiction generally has an adventurous tone. Suspense has a tense mood. Gothic has a heavy feel of foreboding.


The most effective way to capture mood is to use the senses. Where are the characters in your scene; what are they seeing, touching, smelling, hearing, tasting, feeling (the little-acknowledged sixth sense)? What emotions are they dealing with?


If you want to create a sensual atmosphere, describe the scent of a candle burning, the touch of silk against bare skin, the strains of romantic music playing, or a heroine’s reaction to the appearance of her lover. If you want to set the mood for danger, make the character tangibly aware of the temperature (cold—goose bumps on skin); the lighting (darkness or shadows); a revolting smell; a sudden sound or the eerie absence of sound. If you want to create a tone for character shock, have him in the middle of a bite of what had previously been a delicious meal. With this mood, the food becomes sawdust in his mouth, the taste unnoticeable or unappetizing, and he chokes when he finally attempts to swallow it.


Use sense descriptions at their most potent times. This kind of description brings the reader directly into the story. You give him something tangible in your vision. He moves and uses his senses right along with your characters. Create a natural means to blend all the elements of your story. 

·                     Contrast to keep readers on edge. Pair a pessimistic hero with a bleeding heart heroine. Paint the image of a beautiful rose growing steadfastly in a desolate landfill. Develop character personalities and backstories, settings, and plots that make these contrasts blend together naturally.

·                     Pace your story to keep it flowing smoothly, even as tensions run high.Don’t rush to pick up story threads. Keep the reader guessing. Draw out scenes involving rescues and explanations, and offer readers unsatisfactory alternatives to the problems your characters face. Cohesion is crucial when pacing your story, since organic mingling will create the need for (and enable) pacing that matches. Imagine that you introduce into your plot a time element. If the hero doesn’t act by a certain time, the worst horror he can imagine will happen. Pacing picks up considerably. Now imagine that this hero is given a glimpse of his happily-ever-after, but he no longer believes he can succeed. After all, he’s tried everything and failed. The pacing will naturally slow down because he’s at the bottom. Suddenly, conflict arises and the hero has absolutely no choice but to act. He finds a way to save what he cares about most. The pace picks up again. All of this works causally with your characters, setting, and plot. 

·                     Foreshadow by hinting at what is to come, not by answering the crucial questions of a story. Foreshadowing needs to be built into a story in advance. A writer can’t foreshadow something he doesn’t know will happen. Properly developed foreshadowing brings together all the elements in your story. In Conflict, Action & Suspense, William Noble calls foreshadowing “a fine technique for developing suspense and extending action because it offers a possibility that will pick at the reader”. If your reader cares about your characters, he’ll pick up on foreshadowing immediately and every time it’s touched afterward. It’ll worry him to no end. And that means he’ll be involved and hanging on every word. 

·                     Use flashbacks to slow down the action and/or provide missing details, hidden motivation, or even an answer to a mystery. Flashbacks can be in the form of a scene, a paragraph, a sentence, or even a single word. Flashbacks will come naturally out of character, setting, and plot development. It’s tricky to write an effective flashback. Therefore, the purpose in using it must always be clear to the author and the reader. 

The best part of a creating effective tension and twists is that your readers will invest themselves in it mentally, emotionally, and possibly even physically (if you can make them cry or bite their nails, you’ve got them hook, line, and sinker!). You’ve created a net the readers won’t want to get out of until they know everything, and they’ll feel like they’re leaving a piece of themselves behind each time they reluctantly set the book down—especially that last time when they read “The End.”

Find out more here about COHESIVE STORY BUILDING here: 

Do you have a tip for writing effective tension or twists? Leave a comment to tell me! 

Happy writing! 

Karen Wiesner is an award-winning, multi-genre author of over 140 titles and 16 series. Visit her here: 

This post first appeared on Alien Romances, please read the originial post: here

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Karen S. Wiesner, Tension and Twists, Part 3 (Writer's Craft Article)


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