On Thursday, I spotted a Tweet from Angela Ackerman. It was a graphic about story conflict – Elevate Story Telling Through Added Conflict.
I just finished a draft of my early middle grade fantasy. It is a true first draft in that it needs a lot of work. If it was real estate the agent might say that it had good bones.
Angela’s link got me thinking about ways to add tension to my story.
Add a limit. Some authors do this by limiting the time. They set a deadline or other time limit. The bomb will go off. The captors will come back. The deadline Mom and Dad set will pass. You can also limit space, trapping your protagonist in a limited area. Limiting space won’t work. Not with my setting. But time. I might be able to limit the time.
Take something away. Angela recommends taking away your character’s greatest asset. I walk right up to this in my story. My main character ends up in a situation in which her side kick is more comfortable. The problem is that it is only early in the story that I play on this different between the two of them. I need to do it later in the book when it really matters. Hey – that could lead to my subplot!
Change the rules. This is something that happens in the Hunger Games all the time. President Snow and the game makers constantly change the rules. Sometimes a tribute can get help. Sometimes they can’t. Things can be taken away. Sometimes the whole playing field literally shifts.
Have a key player change teams. I just finished reading Japantown by Barry Lancet. All along, Jim Brodie knows that the bad guys know things they shouldn’t. His team finds a bug. But it isn’t until the end of the story that you find out that one of his most trusted allies is a double agent.
Add to the challenge. This is another one that Angela recommends. What more can you give your protagonist to juggle? Instead of having one goal. Give her three. I’ve been watching The Walking Dead with my son. The main characters have to survive which means finding food and avoiding walkers (zombies). This would be tough enough but they are also dealing with a really bad guy. To survive him, they have to find allies but who is safe to approach?
You probably can’t get by with doing all of these in one novel. Probably. But if you don’t have enough tension, play with one or more of these ideas and see what will work in your story and your story world.