Writer Wednesday: 3 Rules for Keeping Tension Alive

Have you ever heard the expression “jump the shark”?  It’s a term from television, stemming from the moment when the show “Happy Days” passed its peak.  Now people use it to describe that tipping point of any TV show.  I’d like to suggest we writers can jump the shark, too.


It’s all about keeping tension in your work.  If you lose the tension, you lose the story.  Too often I’m guilty of this.  So here’s a look at a few things that might help keep that tension alive right to the very end.

1) Keep it messy.

I’m a fan of the happy ending.  I like things all neatly put together and wrapped up in a pretty bow.  So the temptation I have to avoid in my writing is resolving problems too soon.  Don’t give your characters a break unless it’s absolutely necessary.  In fact, load on the problems as much as possible.  Let the relief come at the end, where it belongs.

2) Play on emotions.

The feels!  I love a good story that makes me weep and mourn along with the characters.  Do that.  Make the feelings raw and deep.  If your reader feels along with the characters, they will be more invested in the outcome.  

3) Dangle a carrot.

Don’t be a mean writer, though.  Your characters – and your readers – have to have some hope to cling to.  Show them that there is a big payoff waiting at the end, if they can just be patient.  Dole out hope in carefully measured portions along the way.  Then they have something to look forward to.


Don’t forget how you suddenly lost interest when your favourite TV couple got together too soon, or how disappointed you were by how easy it was for that book character to finish his quest.  Don’t do that to your readers!  Keep that tension alive!  

5 thoughts on “Writer Wednesday: 3 Rules for Keeping Tension Alive”

  1. This is why I couldn’t write a novel…I’m way too impatient to carry on the tension for long! What you say is true though and good advice for writers.

    Visiting from the Ultimate Blog Challenge; I did it! 🙂

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