I just purchased the book Show Don’t Tell: A Writer’s Guide by William Noble, and wanted to write about something he mentions in the third chapter of his book, tension. Tension is necessary to get a story going and to keep it going. Without it, we are left with pages and pages of descriptions and general chit chat. Now, let’s imagine you are at the movies and the movie goes on and on with wonderful vistas of faraway lands with the main character just wondering through all these places. Not much is really going on outside of the pretty view and the character’s various anecdotes on some general observations about where they are. Now my question to you is, would you stay and watch the entire movie or walk out?
Most people would walk out, and it is the same thing with writing. Without conflict in writing most people will just give up and slam your book shut, never to open it again. This is why some books with “bad writing” as some people term it, still manage to sell well. They have action, they have a plot that doesn’t leave you wondering what you will make for dinner, and they keep that action going until you reach the last page of the book.
Now conflict doesn’t always have to be boiling, in your face, going 100 mph, tension. It can be subtle at first, and built upon as the story progresses. Or it can be like a series of crazy, action sequences from summer, blockbuster films. That is all up to the author, but it does need to exist. I know when I write, I have a tendency to get into a lull where the conflict eases in lieu of side thoughts of my characters. But characterization is my personal forte, so its easy to forget about the overall story sometimes for myself. However, this is no excuse to put out a final work with no tension present throughout the entire work. And if you are like me, you can always make tension that only exists in the mind of one character. Perhaps have them struggling between two decisions in their mind unbeknownst to everyone else. Everyone loves a secret, especially when a decision based on that secret could alter the entire ending of the book. Use your strengths to your advantage!
With that said, I would like everyone else’s views on tension in a novel. Do you like back to back action in your stories or a slow build up of it over the length of the entire book? Let me know below.