Posted by: nancycurteman | October 1, 2013

How to Increase Tension Through Character Inner Conflict

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Authors can increase the level of tension in their novels by heaping inner conflict on their characters. This kind of tension comes from inside the protaiStock_000003688168XSmallWorrySitFemale2gonist. It comes from the character’s struggle with his deepest motives, desires, values and needs. Writers will build more tension if they show a character’s inner responses and how those responses motivate his reactions to obstacles.

Here’s how to do it:

Give your characters moral dilemmas. Characters can get what they need, but they don’t really approve of what they’ll have to do to get it. They have to sacrifice their personal view of what is moral and just. The cost of that action can have far-reaching consequences.

• The right choice could require going against the character’s personal beliefs: The “right” answer conflicts with everything the protagonist knows is right.

• Force your character to do a bad thing for a good cause.

• Have your protagonist think about who or what she will betray by failure or if she breaks a promise, disappoints someone she cares about.

• Connect the consequence of an action to your character’s ideals. What does failure do to the protagonist’s beliefs about who he is? The fact is a lie most hurts the liar who considers himself truthful; cowardice most hurts the character who considers herself brave; and an act of cruelty might stick with the perpetrator longer than with the victim.

Consider these possible dilemmas your character might face:

• Should he run while he has the chance to save his own life or try to get inside to rescue the victim?

• A flame ignited between your character and her best girlfriend’s fiancé the moment they were introduced. Should she act on it and hurt her friend?

• Should she tell what she really saw and betray her father?

• Taking a person’s life is wrong. Should he shoot with an aim to kill or to maim?

• Should she reveal her husbands infidelity to all their friends and humiliate the family?

Remember, tension comes from the inner conflict driving the action, not from the action itself.

More Tips on Adding Tension:

What is Tension in a Novel?
7 ways to add tension to any kind of novel
How to Use Natural Disasters to Keep Readers Reading
How Anticipation Not Action Keeps Readers Reading

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