Thursday's Tips: Don't Drain the Tension

Homeostasis. Are you familiar with this term? Here’s the definition: a state of equilibrium or a tendency to reach equilibrium. People strive for this in our lives because no one wants to be out of control or in pain, or whatever it is that takes us out of balance. Makes sense. It’s commendable, even, but our characters cannot have a homeostatic existence. If they do, our writing is dry and without tension. 

Let me explain. Because writers are human and like peace, composure, and balance, we tend to help (let?) our characters have that as well. A threat approaches in the story and we instinctively try to squelch it. We come up with a quick fix and since we’re the writer, we enact it. There. Problem solved. Except, now we’ve unplugged the hole and drained out all the tension that our story inherently tried to gain. 

I believe one of the reasons writers do this is because they’re afraid of not keeping things straight. That reasoning might fit the SOTP (seat-of-the-pants/non-outlining) writers. If they solve the problem quickly, they don’t have to remember to tie up the thread. Solution: make yourself a note and get back to it later. 

Another reason is we'd rather not feel tense. I was watching a TV show the other night and I noticed how tense I felt. Crazy. It was just a television show. But I wanted to avoid the tension playing out on the screen. Same is true in our writing. We'd rather avoid the tension we'll feel as we write the scene. But a good story, one that shows the contrast of light against dark (Christian fiction), must include some darkness. Don't avoid it. Include it. Then the ultimate breakthrough will be all the more impactful and emotional.

The best writing involves writer vulnerability. Writers must make themselves vulnerable, dig deeply into their own painful or stressful times, and include those elements on the page in order for readers to: 1) relate; 2) sympathize; and 3) stay engaged. Another reason not to return things to calm too soon.

A story without tension is not a (readable or enjoyable) story. We must have tension. 

As you’re writing your story, catch yourself if you find your character solving a problem too quickly. Let problems linger. Let your characters suffer. Don’t bring them back to a calm state too quickly. In fact, let the tension escalate by raising the stakes. Let things get worse. Let conflicts go unresolved for a while. Readers will love you for it as they keep turning pages.


  1. That's so funny about the TV show. I have actually left the room while the tension filled scene played because I couldn't stand the conflict. I wanted to avoid it. It is so true in my writing, too. The first timed I had to let something bad happen to my character (it wasn't her fault, after all) I literally cried.

    I wanted to let you know I gave this blog an award on my blog. If you give me the okay, I will post you a link (or send it to you personally) so that you can see it:)

  2. Hi Talynn, thanks for the great comment. It's natural, especially for some of us. But that sensitivity helps us choose our genre, doesn't it? You can post the link in a comment here. Thanks!

  3. Thank you so much, Annette! It's kind of bittersweet. The types of books I love to read and the types of books I like to write are not the same. I need to learn how to create that tension. After all, it only makes my character stronger. And my book better, right?

    The link is :

  4. So true! While writing last week I "saw" my female protag run to save her dog RATHER than get in her car to outrun the encroaching wildfire. This came as a total surprise to me (sotp that I am) and I remember thinking how her action would complicate things. But I went with it. I didn't want the stress, but I knew we had to raise the stakes.

    Great blog post.