When building tension, it's imperative to have high stakes within your story. It doesn't matter what kind of story it is. It could be a story about huge risks, like the end of the world or even the universe, or it could be a story about a girl and her imaginary friend- whether your storm is in the ocean or in a teacup, it has to be perfect.
But you might have set up everything just right, made the risks abundantly clear, shown what happens upon failure, and still…
…still, the audience may be bored. They may not feel the tension or the suspense.
That might be because they don't care about the characters. And it's through the characters that the tension resonates with the audience or the reader.
Tension and suspense is all about worry, stress about what might happen to characters we love or want to see succeed (or just survive). If we don't care about them, or even more, if we hate them, we might not care enough to feel worried about them. In some cases, characters are so annoying people are just looking forward to their death scenes.
What, then, must a character be or have in order to get the tension across?
1. They must be loveable.
That does not mean that only characters that are cute or affable or honey-dew impersonated are loveable. We might love to hate a character, or we might love them because they are a rascal, or imperfect, or struggling against terrible odds and still keeping it up. It doesn't matter why we love a character, we just need to love them, and not want them gone.
2. They must have little to no plot armor.
If the story is such that we feel confident that there is no way for main (or important) characters to die or fail, then even if we like them there will be little or no tension during a high stakes situation. The story has to sell that there is real risk involved. That the character can plausibly fail, and if he/she does, then consequences will be dire.
3. They must be seen struggling.
If the character is seen doing things effortlessly, then the tension again is low. Not only because they appear to be accomplished enough to deal with whatever problem easily, but because they don't seem to put in the investment, the effort in trying to achieve something. When the audience has worked for success alongside the character, then they will want him/her to get what they're striving for. Failure after a big investment hurts. And so the tension is mounting the more we know how much this means to the character we're rooting for, and how much they will hurt if things don't go their way.
How do you build tension in your story?
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Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, Nov. 7, 2020
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