Leaving Things Unresolved

For most of us, we like things to be neatly tied, with ribbons and bows. But in fiction, this can actually kill tension and cause readers to put down books, fully satisfied when they reach the end of a chapter.

I recently attended a class about keeping tension high and increasing the suspense in a novel. The author wrote suspense/thrillers, but her advice was absolutely spot-on for anyone trying to craft a page-turner.

She spoke about the novel as a whole, the chapter as a whole, and each individual scene. I’ll admit, my head sort of exploded when I thought about analyzing my book on such a close level. Every scene? That’s really taking a look at how you’re building and releasing tension.

One piece of advice that really spoke to me was leaving scenes and chapters unresolved in order to keep your readers engaged and anxious to turn the page. She cautioned against resolving the scene/chapter within the first paragraph of the next scene/chapter, which I also agree with.

But leaving your reader hanging prompts them to keep reading for “just a few more minutes.” To flip a few more pages while their dinner timer goes off.

Some questions you can ask yourself to aid in upping the tension:
1. What’s the worst thing that could happen here?
2. What does my character care about most?
3. Who will suffer if they don’t reach their goals?
4. What are the worst two things for my character to choose between?
5. What does my character stand to lose? What are they up against?
6. Why can’t they give up?
7. What’s the deadline to accomplish the goal?
8. Are the antagonist’s and protagonist’s goals opposite?

Looking closely at these questions, and then your scenes and chapters, you can create tension–whether it’s internal or external–on the page. This will keep readers flipping pages way past their bedtime and then raving about your book.

How do you increase tension and suspense in your writing?

Liz Isaacson writes inspirational romance, usually set in Texas, or Wyoming, or anywhere else horses and cowboys exist. Her Western inspirational romance, SECOND CHANCE RANCH, is available now.

She lives in Utah, where she teaches elementary school, taxis her daughter to dance several times a week, and serves on her community’s library board. Liz is represented by Marisa Corvisiero of the Corvisiero Agency. Find her on Facebook, twitter, and her blog.