Round Robin Blog Fest March 2021

I've been having fun this month with the launch of my new release All That Shines. Next week I have an entire Blog Tour lined up which will hopefully bring new readers!

This month's Round Robin Blog Fest question is: How do you develop tension in your writing?

It was a dark and stormy night...

Think about a suspenseful movie that you've seen lately. The tension builds when a character has no idea what's around the next corner. As they walk forward stealthily into the unknown, eerie music swells to add anticipation. Is the killer lurking? Will they fall into a trap? Is the bad guy the person we thought it was or the person we least suspected?

Tension comes from not knowing what is coming next. This evokes emotion in the reader. If we care about the character, we may become fearful for their well-being and invested in their fate.

When writing a novel, we can't cue the music to build. We can show readers how the protagonist's palms grow damp and mouth goes dry. As the lights go out and our character's heart races, we hope to build that same anxiety until either the bad guy is revealed or a cat jumps out for a cheap scare. As in the scary movies though, that cheap scare can and should be followed by something we didn't anticipate. 

In the big climax of my new book All That Shines, the fashion show at the end is predeeded by an impending  storm coming in off the ocean that may or may not add to any havoc Sage, our intrepid sleuth, expects. Thunder, lightening, torrential rain, these things already build a sense of tension. The threat of the lights going out and the killer being able to hide among the many guests, only heightens that suspense. When coupled with the climax of the novel, they can become as important as the characters themselves.

The weather isn't the only way to build tension. Sometimes the setting can provide its own tension. Think of the hotel in The Shining, for example. Isolated, dark, lonely and in the middle of winter. That alone is enough to create tension.

We can add tension due to a chain of circumstances where the protagonist is sent further off his goal due to events beyond his control. Think of the character who has to get from point A to point B to rescue a loved one. Along the way, he misses his plane, is shot at, falls into the ocean, and so on. Each thing that happens to him, builds tension. Will he make it on time to rescue them or will he die trying?

Just when a writer paints their protagonist into a corner, suddenly there is a way out. The "cavalry" may come to his rescue in the form of another character. The police arrive just in the nick of time. The house could fall down around him. He could dig his way through the wall using his pocket knife. If this way out is not believable though, readers may not be sympathetic enough to read future books!

I'd love to hear how other authors increase the tension in their novels! Join me to find out more,

Marci Baun

Dr. Bob Rich

Skye Taylor

Victoria Chatham

Connie Vines

Diane Bator

Rhobin L Courtright

For some added ways to create tension in your writing, check out:


  1. Hi Diane, Great suggestions. I suspect the pandemic with the threat of imminent lockdowns will provide a good source of tensions in the future. anne

  2. Great point - the setting adding to the tension. I especially like the advice about having something start out ominous, but turning silly, and just when you start to chuckle with relief something totally unexpected and far worse happens. Great post.

  3. You are right -- not knowing what comes next for characters who the reader empathizes with and likes builds a lot of tension. Enjoyed your post and examples.

  4. Sometimes, getting them out of that spot is not easy. LOL Of course, that's where the tension comes in. :) So much goes into creating tension. The goal is to engage our readers enough that they want to read more of our books and tell a good story, of course.

  5. Diane, after reading this, I am happy to review your new book. I hope that relieves a little tension...

  6. I started my writing career as a total pantster. Now I'm a planster. I find I cannot completely plot a book as that way there are no surprises. I still like my characters throwing me a curveball because dealing with that creates tension.

  7. I agree, setting can create it's own brand of story tension. I was once a obsessive plotter and with detailed outlines. Now, I have character sketches and a barebones outline. It's more stressful, perhaps, but it a wild-ride to the chapter's ending when the words start flowing. Great post Diane.


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