Have you read Little Women?
I have a tear-stained unabridged hardcover edition I purchased for $10 when I was a teen. That $10 was several weeks’ worth of allowance money, but it was worth it to me. I loved the story and read it many times through the years.
Little Women is a classic, but I doubt it would interest an editor today. Why? Because it lacks the tension and conflict modern readers crave.
Many of us are no longer content to immerse ourselves in babbling brook stories. We want swiftly flowing rivers–complete with whitewater rapids and death-defying drops.
When I began writing I hadn’t learned this important lesson. As a result my stories lacked the conflict and tension needed to gain a reader’s attention.
But that’s changed.
I’ve learned that readers need a reason to keep turning the pages, and it’s my job as the writer to provide it. To do so, I need three things.
Hooks that pull a reader into the story.
Yes, I said hooks. Each scene has to capture a reader’s attention. Beautifully written descriptive passages won’t do it. Something has to be happening, which is why many scenes drop a reader in the middle of the action.
Conflict strong enough to keep the characters apart.
When I began writing my first romance, I didn’t understand what makes a story work. I had the notion after having read hundreds of romances that I could do something no one had done before. I could tell a story of a couple who fell in love and got together early on instead of in the final pages.
I’d felt the pain of one fictional couple after another being kept apart for hundreds of pages and was ready for a story in which the hero and heroine got along and enjoyed being together. OK, laugh if you want. Call me naive, but that’s what I, in my fluorescent green newbie days, thought would work. How wrong I was. It took a while for me to see how boring such a story would be.
Read-on Prompts (ROPs) that keep a reader turning pages.
The ending of a scene is as important as the beginning when it comes to keeping a reader’s attention. We want a reader to turn those pages, eager to read “just one more chapter.” To do this, we need to use read-on prompts, those catchy scene endings that leave a reader with a question she has to have answered: “What happens next?”
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What are some stories you’ve read recently where the author keeps the tension high?
What techniques do you use to keep the tension ramped up in your stories?
Did you ever think, as I did, that a story without tension was the ticket?