Keeping Tension – October Round Robin

Welcome to another Round Robin discussion! This month we’re focusing on keeping up the tension in a book from start to finish.

After several years writing books, I can sense when a scene is slacking now. It derails me and I pick up my crystal ball (no, really, I have one) and start hashing things out using three “writer’s tools” from my personal toolbox.

If you haven’t heard of the writer’s toolbox, I suggest reading Stephen King’s On Writing, as well as frequenting the Writing Excuses podcast. Both are invaluable.


There I am, writing along, when… ugh, this scene is dragging. Why is this taking so long for me to write?

Because we know that if it isn’t interesting to the writer, then it certainly won’t be interesting for the reader, right?

First tool in the box – POV.

Basically, I have to ask if I put the right Point of View character in this scene. Are they too competent for the situation?

For example, if we have a broken down car, we obviously want a mechanic there to fix it. But that’s not drama, that’s not tension, we need someone incompetent in there to see what they do.

Second tool in the box – Stakes.

Oftentimes, when a scene is slacking, it means I need to up the stakes for them. This doesn’t have to be life or death stakes, it can be something smaller. And really, it’s the smaller things that help ground us in the character anyway.

For example, if the character is lost in the middle of a town because somehow your plot got them there. Not only do they want to figure out where they are, but we give them another want as well… like, say, a burrito.

I’m sure we can all share the frustration of being lost in an unfamiliar town, and we can share the feeling of hunger. These aren’t huge stakes, but they are stakes, and the character’s repeated mantra to find a burrito adds some humor.

Third tool in the box – Meshing.

This one is simply the realization that we can combine two scenes together to make a stronger narrative. I use this one quite a lot in the editing stage. When I do my first read-through, I mark each chapter by color based on their strength. Anything yellow can be combined, and I’ve found the book as a whole benefits.

And that’s it! That’s a peek into my writer’s toolbox. Check out what my fellow authors have to say in this month’s round robin.

Beverley Bateman
Anne Stenhouse
Skye Taylor
A.J. Maguire (YOU ARE HERE)
Dr. Bob Rich
Helena Fairfax
Diane Bator
Judith Copek
Rhobin L Courtright

15 thoughts on “Keeping Tension – October Round Robin

  1. Hi AJ, thanks for letting us into your toolbox. I do recognise what you say about things dragging and forcing the writer to ask why. One of my faults is writing out what is actually a precis and then having to re-cast it in dialogue or something… Anne

  2. Interesting approach. I tend to be more intuitive in my writing. If something drags, I put it away and do something else. When I return, I might scrap it altogether, and write the same scene as if it was a new one. And yes, that might mean a different witness, setting (e.g., have a thunderstorm replace sunshine), whatever.
    Very wise of you: if it bores the author, it’ll bore the reader. Excellent litmus test!

    1. My current WIP is being written by hand instead of on the computer, so I really feel it when it starts to drag. Makes me have to sit back and figure out where I went wrong before I can go forward.

  3. I enjoyed your post and the reminder about the writer’s toolbox. Meshing is new to me but I like the idea and may incorporate that into writing my next book.

  4. I like the meshing idea as well. I’ve done it before as well. Just working on a synopsis for a new novel and have found the “burrito” idea just came into play today for me.

  5. Stephen Kind’s book is excellent. Good points about increasing the stakes and combining scenes to make them stronger. Must admit I never thought of that. Meshing also new to me. I always learn something from our monthly posts. I’ sure our readers do, too.

    1. I enjoy learning from other authors as well! The meshing thing actually came from a book on writing I read years ago, I just can’t remember who wrote it or what it was called, lol.

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