Posted by: nancycurteman | March 26, 2014

How to Use Dialogue to Add Tension to Your Novel

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th-1Dialogue is an excellent vehicle for adding tension to your novel if written with care. You must write powerful dialogue, not just idle conversation. As Morrell puts it, write “…conversation’s greatest hits.” Consider the following points:

• If your dialogue is rehashing events that have already happened or is commenting on events that are happening instead of showing them, then it will dilute tension rather than build it.

• Write dialogue that is a power struggle where there is a winner and a loser.

• The way you craft conversations between characters can effectively elevate the tension in subtle or overt ways. If your protagonist wants something from the other character but doesn’t want that character to know, tension underlies the seemingly innocent conversation. Maybe another character wants information from your protagonist, who sidesteps the issue. Or, make the dialogue openly confrontational.

• Tense dialogue contains lots of short sentences,  and fragments. Leave lots of white space on the page..

Lee Child is a master of tense dialogue. Here’s an example of his strategies for adding tension using dialogue: His character, retired M.P.Jack Reacher encounters two tough rednecks in a small town adjacent to an unpopular Army Base.

“Hello Soldier boy.”

“What you been doing this morning?”

“You don’t want to know.”

“Yes, we do.”

“No, you really don’t.”

“You’re not welcome here.”

The guy took a step forward.


I crashed my forehead into his nose. No one expects a head butt.

Your job as an author is to create dialogue that raises your readers tension to a boiling point.

More Writing Tips:

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



  1. I love dialogue . . . because it gives us a chance to show what a character is thinking without telling.

    Dialogue isn’t only helpful for creating tension ~> in a romance, it’s a means of showing that the characters are getting to know one another.


    • I agree with both your points. I would also add that dialogue is a quick way to show personality, goals, values etc.


  2. I wil see if I can work it in to my travel blogs.


    • Dialogue would certainly fit into a travel blog because you could use it for first hand comments by people who have visited the places you are blogging about.


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