Posted by: nancycurteman | September 4, 2013

How Anticipation Not Action Keeps Readers Reading

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iStock_000003688168XSmallWorrySitFemale2Authors, if you want to increase reader tension and keep readers reading, cut back on your action. This may seem difficult to believe, but it’s not the action that really builds tension; it’s what’s happening in your character’s point of view leading up to the action that causes worry and tension on the part of readers and keeps them turning the pages to see what will happen next.

Consider this, a murder doesn’t raise tension. In fact it lowers tension because the act of murder ends the worried anticipation that it will occur.

A kidnapping with the threat of a murder increases tension. The longer you can prolong the kidnapping experience, the more the tension mounts.

As a writer your goal should be to increase the readers’ apprehension about a future violent act or unhappy experience as long as possible.

Here are some comparisons between action and anticipation. You be the judge of which one will keep readers turning pages.

Action: Protagonist shoots the killer.
Anticipation: Protagonist hesitates because he believes it’s wrong to kill or his gun is out of reach can he get a gun.

Action: The racer crosses the finish line.
Anticipation: The racer’s thinking it would humiliate the racer to lose the race to that new kid or he’s worrying if he can make it to the finish line before his asthma stops him.

Action: The lovers get married.
Anticipation: She’s hesitating because her past relationships have been miserable why would this be any different? Or his grown kids hate her because they see her as trying to replace their dead mother.

Action: The bomb destroys the target.
Anticipation: The protagonist worries that dropping the bomb might kill some innocent people. Or maybe he won’t be able to get in position to place the bomb before he’s detected?

Which do you think would keep you turning the pages of a novel, action or anticipation?

More writing tips:

9 Ways to Create Tension in a Mystery Novel
What is Tension in a Novel?
7 ways to add tension to any kind of novel


  1. Wise words.


  2. Indeed! We sit on the edge of our seat “waiting for the shoe to drop.” Once it drops, so does our tension.


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