The One Thing You Need to Keep Readers Reading

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I was writing a scene in my current manuscript–and I was getting bored.

This was not good. If I, the writer, was bored writing this scene–what are the readers going to think? Boredom is definitely not the emotion you want your readers to feel. So I looked back on the scene I was writing and figured out what was wrong with it…

It lacked tension.

If you’re a seasoned writer, you already know why tension is important. But just in case you’re new to all of this:

Tension is the thing that makes your readers want to keep reading. It’s anticipation of what’s coming next. Your character has to be nervous about something, or looking forward to something, or in danger of something. Basically it means there have to be clues that something big is about to happen–and the reader wants to keep reading to find out what that is.

The aforementioned scene I was having trouble with is one of the same ones I’ve been having trouble with all week–the scene where my character arrives at the castle. She’s looking around her in wonder, I’m trying to describe this immense brand new setting without bogging it down in detail–and there was no tension whatsoever.

While wonder and newness are all fine and good, my character needed to be looking forward to something, or dreading something, or desperate to figure something out. She has to want something.

I fixed this by making her remember the one big question she has about her predicament here at the castle–and realizing there is one person she can go to find the answers she’s seeking. So instead of just wandering through the castle, marveling at the high ceilings, she’s hell-bent on finding this person as soon as possible and figuring out what it is he knows.

I read it over after I was done–and it works now. It’s tense. It makes you want to keep reading. Mission accomplished!

I wonder if there’s a time when incorporating tension into a scene will come as naturally as breathing. For me it definitely comes in the second draft, but not always in the first. In the first I’m just trying to get down the words as fast as they come to me. And that’s okay! It’s what you should be doing in the first draft. But if you’re getting bored with your writing, it’s always a good idea to try and figure out why.

Do you ever have trouble writing tension into a scene? What are your top tips?

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7 thoughts on “The One Thing You Need to Keep Readers Reading

  1. I remember once, I was writing a scene and I was getting so very, very bored, and I realized that I was having a character sweep the front steps while he waited for something to happen … If the character is bored to death, and I was bored to death, WHY WAS I WRITING IT?

    In that case, it was more a matter of cutting it out entirely and moving on to the part where anything at all actually happened.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I find myself writing a lot of scenes like that in first draft–like time between the exciting parts, where they’re just passing the time. Then I go back and I’m like, why did I include this!? I think it’s important to remember your story does not have to unfold in real time 🙂

      Like

  2. I think you hit on one of the best ways to infuse tension: figure out what the character wants/needs in the scene and focus on it. Usually when I’m struggling, it’s because I haven’t quite figured out what the character needs in the scene, and until I do, it’s hard going.

    Like

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