Today we're gonna talk about tension. More specifically, tension in a novel. I suppose this could also be classified as construction of chapters leading to a whole book.
Let's get started!
First and foremost, you should know your main character must undergo some type of change from the beginning of your novel to the end. They must walk through the proverbial doorway which, once passed through, they can never recover from. Life can never ever be the same after they take that step. They should doubt, question, and have reservations about taking that step. This provides much needed tension.
The basic construction of a novel is thus:
- Introduction to the character
- Moment of change (or some like to call this introduction of conflict I don't, because conflict can come later) This should happen in the first 1/3 of the novel (unless a series)
- Path to resolution
- Conclusion (this should happen in the last 1/4)
Some novelists enjoy flipping this construct around and beginning with the end. As an example, I gave the major turning point in my book Yassa in the prologue from a different character's POV. That was different from my main character's moment of change (when he murdered his half-brother).
Every chapter must have some sort of tension as well. You don't necessarily have to bring the same amount of tension in each chapter, but you need something to keep your reader engaged and turning the page.
Let's rate tension on a scale of 1-5. Some people prefer 1-10 but I think that's too big a range and adds confusion. We'll say 1 is the least amount of tension and 5 is the most.
Your first chapter should hit at least a 3, no matter the length of your novel. Subsequent chapters can be spread out but you should be sure to hit a 5 at least twice during your tale. If you have more than one chapter that only reaches a 1, change it to add tension. Read your book and assign ratings. Change what needs changing.
This can be done by introducing an antagonist or throwing a monkey wrench into your character's path (that link takes you to a page in my blog where you can get some ideas on how to add tension).
If you want a great example of a novel that manages to hit a 5 in damned near every chapter, check out Dean Koontz's Intensity. There's a reason this book flew off the shelves. I'm not much of a Koontz fan, but that was one hell of a book.
Find it here.
Readers get bored easily. If you inundate them with back-story or long, descriptive paragraphs, they'll put your book down and walk away. Sometimes they come back but why risk it?
Remember, tension is key to engagement!
When you put all the chapters you've written together, make sure your transitions are smooth between each and read for tension!
What book have you read lately that had great tension?
Well, that's all for today, folks! Until next time, WRITE ON!