>Tension in Fiction


It seems odd that tension should be so important to good storytelling. One definition of tension is mental or emotional strain. Think of tense situations or relationships you’ve been involved in. How did they feel? Uncomfortable, awkward, even painful? In real life we avoid tense situations. So if tension is so heinous, why do we desire tension in novels, even if we don’t know it? Why do we put down books that don’t keep the tension going from scene to scene?

Simply put, tension in novels keeps us interested. When tension lags, desire to read on lags. When tension is high, you read faster, wanting to know what’s next. Readers live on that kind of mental stress. When I think of books that I read the fastest, it’s usually because tension was high on page one and didn’t let up. In fact, it often intensified.

I’d never analyzed this until recently, but I’m fascinated by how obnoxious tension is in real scenarios and yet how desirable in fiction. Thrillers, mysteries, romances, literary novels – all thrive on tension. Tension between characters, whether enemies or lovers, is the stuff of life in a novel.

What are your thoughts on tension in fiction? Why do you think it’s important to keeping momentum?

Photo by rick


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