Pulling readers into your story and escalating their interest requires creating, building and maintaining the right level of tension. However, sometimes as an author you might have the tendency to sabotage the tension you’ve created by giving into your character’s desires.
For example, to create tension in your story you might put your character in a precarious life and death situation that they really want to get out of fast. Instead, of building on that tension you might decide you don’t want your character to have to endure their emotional suffering too long, so you give them a fairly quick escape. When you do, you often relieve the story tension (and reader’s interest) prematurely. Building the optimal amount of tension often requires dragging your character through unbearable long-lasting tortures (physical, emotional or intellectual). Just when things seem like they couldn’t be any worse for your character, what you really need to do is find a way to make them even worse.
Of course, readers can reach a point of tension overload, which can also cause them to stop reading. So you have to be careful not to overdo their suffering and you occasionally have to relieve some of the tension so readers can breathe their own sigh of relief. It in essence becomes a balancing act of creating and building tension levels to a high, sustainable point, but not too high and for not too long.
But ultimately, the point is that no matter how much you love the characters you’ve created, don’t give in too early to their pleas for help. Make them suffer a bit longer, and your readers will love you for it.
What are your thoughts on building story tension?
Image by Carl Glover