1 min read

Find the tension

When writing fiction, I have a problem where I write scenes and they go (in my judgment) nowhere. This is bad for two reasons: It's boring to read and so I'm going to have to cut a lot, but more importantly, it's boring to write and I'm probably not going to finish. Downstream of that: I don't want to write when writing is boring.

In retrospect, often the problem is that there's not enough tension. The characters have no reason to send sparks flying. I should remember that if there will be sparks later on — I can just skip to later on. And if none is forthcoming, I should see if I can find a way to add some. Invent a new character if I have to, if it makes sense. Bring in a surprise.

Another is forgetting that I can just summarize over the boring stuff, specifically dialog. I don't have to write out every line of dialog if I don't want to. Even one boring line of dialog is too much. I don't want to write it. Nobody wants to read it.

That goes back to tension though. Boring stuff is not tension. We want more tension.


Here's a thought. I had a story idea years back — 2017 in fact — about a person who works for Satan, gets called to a dinner with him, and brings their (drunk) spouse. This is a fun idea but there's no tension in it the way I'm imagining it. There is some tension from the drunk spouse — maybe they'll say something rude that will get them (both) in trouble — but I don't think that's active enough. There's no way I can keep a three-way conversation like that going for 15 pages. I need more tension.

So, here's an idea: Maybe Satan invited a fourth guest. He's considering replacing the protagonist with this person, if not now then later. But he's not going to come out and say so — he's just going to let the protagonist stew.

I could look for more. Why is the spouse drunk? Are they resentful and trying to sabotage the protagonist? But there's already a much clearer source of tension: What is Satan up to? How will the protagonist save their job?