Rising Tension: Test Your Story to Be Sure You Have It

Dot TestThis is my second most popular post of the year:  Rising Tension: Test Your Story to Be Sure You Have It.

Your character has to have a goal and it has to be something that is of great importance.  As she works her way toward this goal, obstacles get in the way.  She tries and fails, tries and fails and then, when all seems lost, succeeds!

That’s a super simply take on story structure.  The point being that we all know that tension needs to increase throughout our stories. Sure, there need to be places where it drops off slightly but for the most part it is up, up, up.

The problem is that we have a tendency to assume that our stories have it.  “Oh, yeah.  I toss obstacles in the same way. It is a real thrill ride.”

But have you tested the tension in your story?  One way to do this is the plot dot test which I first saw at Adventures in Agenting.

It is fairly simple.  Draw a line across the page. This is your base line, the level of tension in scene 1.  Make a dot at the beginning of the line and label it 1.

Read scene 1 and then read scene 2.  Is the tension higher in the second scene?  If so, make another dot to the right and slightly above the first.  If the tension is the same, the dot for scene 2 should also be on your base line.

Read through your manuscript scene by scene.  Compare each scene to the one just before it.  Draw the dot to add that scene to your graph.

Ideally, your scenes will plot out something like a traditional story arc.  You need to have a climb toward the climax with tension dropping off several times immediately following an attempt by the hero to solve her story problem. A story that continually climbs in tension but never drops off even slightly, may seem tiring and burn the reader out before they finish.  A story that plots out as a horizontal line isn’t climbing towards a climax.

I’ve got a new story to test.  It is for preschoolers so I may want to plot out a published story or two for the same audience.

If any of you try this technique, let me know how it works for you.


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