The Secret to Creating Tension In Stories

Today, I’m going to talk to you about another writing circumstance that you may find yourself in: Tense Scenes. These are scenes where the mood is very tense, such as when one of the characters is about to give bad news, or perhaps they’re sneaking around the bad guy’s castle. There are all sorts of scenes where it would be useful to skillfully inject a little bit of tension. If you want to learn one of the ways to do just that, keep reading!

I don’t muck about, so I’ll get right to it. The secret to writing a scene with tension is to get your readers to ask the question, “Why?” Take, for instance, my third book. It’s the finale. Two of the characters are converging on the evil villain’s castle! One of the characters has always been level-headed, throughout the entire book. However, in this scene, she makes the rash decision to abandon all reason and plunge into the dark castle without her friends!

The goal is for everyone who reads that part of the story to think to themselves: “What? Why is she doing this? What has happened to her?” And those readers will ask those questions all through the rest of the scene. They’ll wonder what is going on with this character to make them act so strangely, and this will (hopefully) keep them on the edge of their seat. Why is this? Well, I think many readers go through books without necessarily asking too many questions (or at least I do). However, I almost forced a question down their throat when I made that character act all weird. Once their mind got to work on that question, it was able to take in all the questions that followed, too. So, in this imagined scenario, the reader begins asking questions about many other aspects of the scene. This creates tension.

Now, of course, I didn’t just alter one of my characters for no reason whatsoever. That would be poor writing. There was a certain bad side to my character, and I chose that moment to let it slip out. Timing is everything.

So, what should you take away from this? Expectation leads to tension. If you give your readers a reason to think, a reason to ask, a reason to wonder, then you’re well on your way to creating a scene that has tension. Good luck with all your writing endeavors!

I self-published a series of short stories called “Buttercup and Other Short Tales” on Amazon. Feel free to check it out! https://www.amazon.com/Buttercup-Other-Short-Tales-Duffy-ebook/dp/B0768B114Z/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1508254374&sr=8-1&keywords=buttercup+and+other+short+tales

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3 Tips For Writing Action Scenes

We’ve talked about writing drive. We’ve talked about productivity. We’ve talked about my history (parts of it, anyway). We’ve talked about the all-important planning stage. And we’ve talked about giving your work a title. That means you are inspired to write, and you know how to keep writing. These are essential. But what about the actual writing of your story?

For this week and each of the upcoming weeks, I will be giving advice for a different specific (but not too specific) situation you may encounter in your writing. If you want to request areas of writing for me to help you out on, please tell me so in the comment section. Remember, I’m here to be useful to you, so please tell me what you want to see on this blog.

Ahem. Here we go. One of the hardest parts (and sometimes one of the most important parts) of writing is action scenes. As you know, I worked very hard to get to where I am today in action scenes. Before I start giving you some pointers, here’s some proof that I’m a bit knowledgeable on the subject. This is a sample from one of my novels:

I followed his gaze, wondering exactly what kind of monster these warriors were. Just then, fifteen Gremlons emerged from the forest. Gremlons were large, thick, stocky monsters. Each held a broad sword in one hand and a shield in the other.

“CHAARGE!” Reve shouted. I flew across the battlefield, running straight toward one of the Gremlons. The Gremlon barreled into me with his shield right away, and I went flying back. I was on my feet again in a moment. This time, I resolved not to underestimate the Gremlons’ power.

I rolled to the side as one swiped vertically at me. I tried to stab, but my attack just bounced off his shield.

I hopped back, deciding I should use the weapons that made me special. I sheathed my sword and strapped my shield to my back. Then I strung my bow and nocked three metal arrows. I made like I was going to shoot one Gremlon. At the last moment, though, I turned and shot another. His back was turned, so all the arrows made their mark. He fell forward and exploded in a swirl of ash.

I turned back to the other Gremlon, who was advancing. He chopped at me, but I bent over, allowing his sword to bounce off my shielded back. I rolled right past his shield and stabbed my newly-drawn sword into his hip. He howled, swinging at me with his wide sword.

I tumbled backward, only just dodging the swipe.

I think you get the picture. Action scenes must always meet three requirements: They must be fast-pacedentertaining, and non-repetitive.

Fast-paced: The first requirement. Now, don’t mistake fast-paced for short. Your action scene can be as long as you want (within reason, I’d imagine) but if you’re taking forever to explain what happens on the battlefield, you’re not doing your job as a writer. Your action scenes need clarity, which is basically synonymous with “as clear as possible, as fast as possible.” Your reader needs to be able to understand the thought processes of your characters, while being able to grasp the flow of the action. Take what I wrote. “I hopped back, deciding I should use the weapons that made me special. I sheathed my sword and strapped my shield to my back. Then I strung my bow and nocked three metal arrows.” I could have said, “I hopped back ten paces, landing in a grassy area. Flowers sprouted up all around me, beating in the wind like they were having a battle of their own. I knew what I needed to do, of course. I needed to stop fighting with my sword and use my one unique ability: good aim. So I lifted my ornate sword and allowed it to slide back into it’s bejeweled case…” Yada, yada, yada. Suddenly, we’re talking about flowers and jewels and wind. Ugh! It’s all dull, boring, slow, and overly-descriptive. Keep it crisp and brief.

Entertaining: The key is to fill your action scenes with enough varied instances. In the battle above, my character is thrown backward with a powerful shield bump. Then he switches to his bow and fires three arrows. He proceeds to roll around a Gremlon and stab the beast’s thigh. He’s not just sitting there, locked in sword combat. Trust me, sword duels can be very exciting (and varied), but it’s hard to just read slash after slash after slash. Give your scene some substance! Note: The scene above is a sword fight, but that’s far from the only kind of action scene. These tips can apply to all sorts of action scenes.

Non-repetitive: This is the most important tip. Your battle can be exciting. It can be fast-paced. It can be varied. It can be entertaining and filled with loads of content! But if you don’t find different ways to say things, your action scene will be unbearably boring. Instead of saying “He swung his sword,” say “His blade cut through the air.” Instead of saying “She dodged,” say, “She moved to the left, only just avoiding the blow.” These are examples of the sorts of short, crisp alternatives you should be searching for in your writing. Long story short, make sure to use many varied phrases for even simple things, like a sword slash or a jump or a scan or a flurry of attacks. It’s really important.

Those are three of the tips I have for writing action scenes. I really hope you found them helpful! Remember to write in the comments what you want my next tip to be about! Good luck with all your writing endeavors!

The Genius of Writing, Part 5 – The Biggest Flaw

I remember being twelve years old and sitting down to plan my first “real story.” It was only ever, like, 20 pages long, and it was lousy in many respects. One was the characters, specifically my main character. I named him John (John was the greatest name in my household at the time, mind you), and I filled out some character development questions for him (See post: https://whitleyscribe.wordpress.com/2016/04/29/developing-great-characters-inside-and-outside-the-story/). One of the questions was, “What is this character’s biggest flaw?” I remember staring blankly at that page, unable to think up a single flaw. “Flaw?” I scoffed. “How could my beloved protagonist have a flaw? HE’S PERFECT!” However, in most cases, that’s pretty bad writing.

Have you been in my situation? Your protagonist is too goody-goody? No dark secrets (To quote Tony Stark, “I don’t trust a guy without a dark side.”)? Well then, this post could help you. Continue reading

The Genius of Writing, Part 3 – “Reaching Into The Beast”

A few days ago, I attended a retreat called Quo Vadis. Two-hundred highschool boys, myself included, had fun bouncing around at a trampoline park, propelling down super slides, and…singing? That’s right. My fellow men and I poured our hearts out into song, because this was a Christian retreat. We weren’t afraid to sing about God. And when you realize you’re not afraid to sing about God, there are suddenly a bunch of other things you aren’t afraid of either. So, when I came back, my writing path sort of unfolded before me. All the trials and tribulations melted away, along with all my ambitions and fears. In my darkest writing hour, I reached into the belly of the beast and pulled out something beautiful.  Continue reading

Awakening – Episode 15, The One Who Never Knew Love

We’re back! Clyde, here. After the mid-season finale (where the dreaded Ganondorf came to the island and revealed that perhaps he isn’t the one who caused all of this), things start to really escalate on the island, as a new plot twist enters the picture!

AWAKENING
Episode 15

A brilliant fire erupted from a pile of thin sticks, each flame reaching toward the sky, only to be slowly snuffed out before it could even come close. Link and Zelda were sitting at the fire.
“They look up to you, you know,” Zelda stated.
Link, who had been staring intently at the fire, turned to her. “Do they really?” he asked.
She nodded.
He stared back at the fire. “Brilliant,” he said, voice leaking so much sarcasm that it threatened to put out the fire.  Continue reading