Which of the following sentences shows more tension to you?
“The bomb will go off in a month; we have plenty of time to disarm it. Hey, do you want to play a round of golf?”
“My god, look at the timer. Ten seconds and the bomb goes off. We’ll never get away. We’re going to die.”
Which of the following sentences shows more conflict to you?
“Full house? Wow, you win Jim. Want to play another hand?
“Jim, you cheatin’ snake, these cards are marked,” Sam growled as he pulled out a gun from his waistband. “Give me back by twenty grand or I’ll blow your damn head off.”
Virtually every story needs some kind of conflict and tension. They spice things up and make the story more interesting to readers. You can find them in the earliest children’s books. “The Little Engine That Could,” where a train engine struggles to climb a steep hill. “Jimanji,” where the children struggle to complete the game and avoid injury and death. “Cinderella,” where the main character must contend with her evil stepmother and stepsisters. Conflict, and its resolution, is what makes people want to turn the page to see what happens next.
Conflict can occur between many aspects of a story. It can happen between characters, the proverbial “Good Guys” and “Bad Guys.” Between characters and nature, as in the “The Perfect Storm” and “Moby Dick.” Conflict can even occur between one character. “I want to do it, but I know I shouldn’t, but I can’t help myself.”
Giving deadlines, like with the bomb timer above, can create tension. A deadline for a project, something that must be done before the eclipse is over, the floodwaters are rising, a tsunami is approaching and so on. Tension can also be created when nothing is happening. Remember how you felt watching the news during a hostage situation, or waiting to see if anyone survived the crash of an airliner? Tension can also be created with fast action, when disaster can happen at any moment. People love this. Why do you think people are riveted to their television when the news is showing a live high-speed chase? Ask yourself, what is the worst thing that can happen, and make that part of your story. The choices for creating tension are endless.
When used properly conflict and tension make a story interesting, and move the story line along at a fast pace, which keeps the reader mesmerized. So hurry up, write something now, time is running out.