One Writer’s Journey

March 27, 2015

Tension: How to build it in a well known event

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:16 am
Tags: , , ,

TensionOne way to build tension in fiction is to hide information from your reader.  Of course, you also have to hide it from your narrator but it works to keep your reader on the edge of his or her seat.  How then do you do this in nonfiction?

If you are writing about a little known event, sometimes all you have to do is tell your story.  None of your readers know about this particular wagon train.  They haven’t heard about this specific blizzard.

But how do you write about a well known event like Pearl Harbor or the Titanic?  You take your clue from the above.  You zoom in on a very specific part of the story.

Adults and many teen readers know the story of Pearl Harbor.  When I wrote my book about this particular battle, it was obvious in chapter one that we lost.  In fact, that’s just about where I started — with the attack itself.  I then built up the tension by focusing on certain people:

  • a young welder who was blown overboard.
  • a pilot, wearing his pajamas, scrambling to fuel and arm an aircraft.
  • a new, inexperienced radar operator.

Readers skim the text wanting to see if these individuals survive and how they contributed to the day.  Were they heros or were they part of what went wrong?

You can also use knowledge of this big, bad end event to build the tension.  Let the reader know that it is coming, it is closer, it is here right about . . . NOW.

Fiction writers also create tension in the language and descriptions that they use.

For Pearl Harbor, this was easy.  The bombs I wrote about didn’t just “go off.” They exploded.  They blasted.  They detonated.  Aircraft looked lethal.

Whether you are writing fiction or nonfiction, building the tension takes attention to detail at the personal level.  Take the time to do it right and your reader will be pulled in until the bitter end.




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