Keep'n it Tight, Keep'n it Real

If there's one thing every great book needs, it's tension.

Recently I was reading a book where, although I didn't really like the heroine, I empathized with her and the story even caused me to get some prickly eyelids (you know, the almost-cry?). Imagine my surprise though when fifty pages from the end all the tension suddenly dropped out of the story. The last part of the book was a tying up of plot threads. I almost didn't finish because the sigh-worthy moments had already happened.

So how do we keep a reader turning the pages to the very end?


But it's gotta be tight. I happen to think there should be some form of tension on every single page. Whether in the form of dialogue, actions or narrative, there needs to be something that makes the reader say, "oooh, this is going to be interesting" or "uh-oh".

Not only that, but the tension has to be real. It has to be believable. It's possible to create paper-thin conflicts. Imagine tension as a tight thread stretched from one page to the next. If the conflict/problem becomes something the reader thinks is silly or not believable or easily solved, then the thread is cut and the tautness is gone. And the reader will probably stop reading.

Do you like page-turners? What do you find harder to do in your story, tension on every page or believability to support that tension?


Terri Tiffany said…
I don't know if I can take tension on every page but I do need tension. I like a good build and then do it again:)
Unknown said…
Great point. I love the books where I think "one more chapter and I'll go to bed." But then I can't stop reading because the end of every chapter leaves me wanting more. :)
Linda Kage said…
If the plot is really twisted in a story I'm reading and it takes the characters a while to unravel all the mysteries, then yeah, I'll start skimming through stuff to get to the good tension stuff. I understand what you're talking about.
Unknown said…
I've read books like that. I don't read the author's next book.

It's not hard to put tension on every page. It's the believability that's the challenge. Good point about paper thin conflict. I've been guilty of that one.

I prefer the 'one more chapter' books. :D
Yes, I like me some tension. I find it also needs to be inserted at the right times. I mention this in my post today. We have to be careful about it and not just throw people fighting onto every page.
~ Wendy
Cindy R. Wilson said…
Ten years ago, maybe even less, I would not have known what you were talking about. Probably would have written a book that tied up those loose ends. I'm glad I've been learning, because this tension thing is important. I think it's harder for me to write tension on every page than to make that tension believable.
Jill Kemerer said…
Yes!! I'm sooo with you. Joanna Bourne writes historical romances (with suspense) set in revolutionary France and the tension!! Wow! She amazes me. There is tension within tension--I can't put her books down.
Sandra Orchard said…
Since LIS likes to see the heroines in jeopardy...a lot. I find believability is the bigger challenge.
Lisa Jordan said…
I love page turners that keep me up way past my bedtime. For me, the tension can be subtle. It just needs to keep me interested enough to see what happens next.

I'm willing to suspend belief a little as long as I'm absorbed in the story.
Lindsay Harrel said…
Yes, I so know what you mean about books that end before they really end. So unsatisfying.

I agree with you about tension in every scene, but like you said, it has to be believable. And not just done for tension's sake. It has to make sense in the larger plot. It's exhausting when there's so much tension and you're wondering why?!
Terri, I think the building up is a form of tension itself, because the reader is aware of what's building!

Karen, me too!!

Hi Linda, yeah, in the unraveling there should be tension, you know? If there's not...we skim. lol
Stina, believability is my issue too. I love some juicy conflict but to make it, not so good at that. lol

Wendy, that's a good point. Because tension is more than just people fighting. It's also an internal thing.

Cindy, you probably are better at it than you think. :-)
Jill, I've never read her! Hmmm. Will have to keep an eye out since I lub me some tension. Thanks for the info!

Me too, Sandra.

Exactly, Lisa! Sometimes we need that suspension too.

LOL Lindsay! Very true.
Keli Gwyn said…
I've had to learn to ramp up the tension in my stories. What helped was when I finally realized the hero and heroine in my romances want to get together and that my job as the writer is to keep them apart. They have to earn their HEA, but doing so makes the ending that much sweeter for them and for the reader.
Patti said…
I loved Karen's comment. I feel the exact same way. You keep reading and suddenly it's two in the morning.

Sounds like the book you read might have ended in the wrong spot.
Loree Huebner said…
I love page turners and tension!

I want a book that keeps reading and wanting more until it's finished.
Loree Huebner said…
Sorry that would be "a book that keeps ME reading..." typo sorry :D
Sarah Forgrave said…
Oh, I love a good page-turner! My scratchy eyelids after a long night reading? Not so much, lol.

Great post, Jessica!
Yes, I love tension and cliff hangers. Predictability? Not so much.

I can't wait to read how you used tension in your book! Not long now...
Stacy Henrie said…
I love to read things where the conflict/tension isn't just from bad guys or frightening situations, but from characters interacting or a character's insecurities/fears coming out.
Unknown said…
First of all, thanks bunches for stopping by my blog, Jessica! So glad to have another fun blog to read. I so agree with you - gotta have tension. And that can even simply mean, to me, romantic or internal tension. But if there's nothing there, there's nothing compelling me to turn the page.
Anonymous said…
Lawd, I hope a reader never feels that with my work - but I agree with you. Keeping the tension up for that satisfying "oh!" or "ahh" or "yay" at the end keeps readers turning pages!
Kathryn, I hope not with mine either...but (eek) I'm definitely not a perfect writer. I think I might need to stick out a disclaimer. Heh.

Hi Melissa, good points! Thanks for dropping by. ;-)

Exactly Stacy!!

Oh dear, Jeanette, just keep in mind that it's easier to dispense advice than follow it. lol
So true, Keli!

Patti, I think you're probably right.

Me too, Loree!
Wow, look at all these comments, BQE! Hmm. I think I probably have a harder time sustaining the tension? But that's something you can always fix in the rewrites. HEE.

Great post, pal!
Anonymous said…
Tension is very important to a story, especially to pull things to the end. Don't know if I could've finished the book.
Kara said…
I do like tension, and think it is important to keep the story moving. When the tension is absent for too long in a book I think it becomes boring and I start skimming through the book.
Great post. I like lots of romantic tension. I think that's easier to write than suspenseful moments. For me anyway. :)
I like tension, but I need a breather every now and then.
Faith Pray said…
As a human, I avoid tension; as a reader, I like to see tension satisfied; but as a writer, I try to create it!
I heard recently that it helps to think about four places or situations your main character would not like to be in, and then put at least two of them into your story.
Linda Glaz said…
I thought you were write about a Playtex bra, but here it is about tension. hehehe Yeah, love to read it, hard to write it, successfully.
Janet Smart said…
I love a page turner. I think I need to go look at a couple of my manuscripts to make sure they are page turners.
Nancy said…
Most books I read start out somewhat interesting or sometimes they are even boring. Then they get interesting because the story picks up. Near the end there is this huge tension as they rush to the conclusion. Since I read mostly at night, I often stay up late finishing the third of the book that houses the tension. In the daytime,it's hard to put the book down and do everyday things. So, yes I like tension, but help me, I have other things to do, too.
Jaime Wright said…
I love tension! Page turners are great - in any genre!!
Karen Lange said…
I like well paced tension, where you feel you can breathe and enjoy the story, but you know it's building too...:)

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