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Conflict & Tension – The Ticking Clock

July 19, 2017 by in category On writing . . . by Jenny Jensen tagged as , , ,

I read a lot. I devour books of all genres – Indie and traditionally published, new and old. I need to know what’s selling, what’s succeeding and what stories are breaking through the competition to become a hit (and I really love to read!). There are lessons to be learned in every book I read and those lessons always make me a better editor.

Lately I’ve seen a trend toward ratcheting up the level of tension. It’s not just serial killer thrillers where the plot is structured for the loudest ticking clock; I see it in every genre. There’s more than a clock ticking, there’s a nuclear device with a very short fuse. And the fuse is lit from page one on. Some of these tales are wound so tight I nearly get an ulcer fretting my way to the solution. It leaves me exhausted (entertained, but exhausted), and leads me to consider the element of tension.

We all know that tension is a required element of every story. It’s what draws the reader into an emotional engagement with the tale. Conflict and tension go nicely hand in hand but conflict alone doesn’t create tension. You need that emotional investment in the character’s fate so that the reader cares about the outcome. Tension is about anticipation. Phil and Philly flirt. What will this lead to? Will this bring out the monster in Philly’s father? Will Phil leave Dotty for the long legged Philly? What if Dotty won’t let go easily?

We care because you’ve created characters that resonate with the reader, characters worth rooting for. We need to know what happens. It’s the anticipation that draws us on. A conflict is just a conflict – two opposing forces on a collision course. Not very exciting unless it’s infused with an emotional content that makes us care about the outcome of the clash. And with well-drawn characters a story is richer with several elements of tension. Tension can be anywhere and everywhere – between characters, within a character himself, with the outside world. There are enough possibilities for an element of tension in every scene and that’s a great tool for moving the story forward.

But that golden element requires balance. The suspense created by tension should ebb and flow or you’ll burn the reader out. Down time from tension allows a place to let the characters develop further, build on the setting or background, weave in foreshadowing. Let the moments of tension grow in intensity as the story progresses until it stand shockingly tall as the blockbuster needed for the climax. Bring your reader along for the ride without always creating the need for a stiff drink.


Jenny Jensen | A Slice of Orange
With a BA in Anthropology and English I pursued a career in advertising and writing and segued into developmental editing. It was a great choice for me. I love the process of creating and am privileged to be part of that process for so many great voices — voices both seasoned and new.

I’ve worked on nearly 400 books over 20 years, books by noted authors published by New York houses including Penguin, Kensington, Pentacle and Zebra as well as with Indie bestsellers and Amazon dynamos. From Air Force manuals and marketing materials to memoirs, thrillers, sci fi and romance, my services range from copyediting to developmental coaching.

Having worked in advertising and marketing, I am always cognizant of the marketplace in which the author’s work will be seen. I coach for content and style with that knowledge in mind in order to maximize sales and/or educational potential. My objective is to help the author’s material stand out from an ever more crowded and competitive field.

Jenny Jensen

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