August 28, 2012

Writer Tip: Maintaining Tension, by Kaylin McFarren

Kaylin McFarren.

How do you maintain tension when writing suspense stories?

After attending dozens of writing workshops and numerous conferences, I compiled a list of rules that I depend on daily when writing romantic suspense. These recommended guidelines are a great tool for creating tension and expectation, which is essential to keeping your readers turning those pages!
Remember to show, don't tell! I’ve heard this over and over again and it is the most common mistake among new writers. The fewer blocks of description or passive writing you include, the better. Avoid "info dumps" where you include sections of research information and background details you might consider important. This will only serve one purpose: bringing your story to a screeching halt and turning it into a boring textbook. Instead, focus on current events or the overall point of your story by including realistic dialogue and fun, action-packed scenes.
Make sure to create a “believable” threat or frightening dilemma, such as a kidnapping, unexploded bomb or an impending disaster. You might add a psychological danger such as the loss of a job or dying family member. The trick is to make the threat relevant and potentially devastating to your main characters.
When things seem to go wrong, they can only get worse, which is a great plan of attack for keeping your reader’s interest. Ask yourself, "What would people do in this situation?" Then have your character do the unexpected, open the wrong door or make the wrong choice, leaving them facing the consequences of their actions.
In suspense pacing is by far the most important aspect of your story. A common practice is to increase tension by shortening your phrases and dialogue. While lengthy sentences add a more relaxed mood to your story, short choppy ones read faster and help make scenes more suspenseful. But don’t get carried away and make the mistake of wearing your readers out by keeping action rolling at fever pitch. As in “real” life, characters need to catch their breath after an exhausting action scene.
Determine the timeline for your story, remembering that quick scenes or episodes that occur in a matter of hours or over the course of a day are far more suspenseful than scenes taking place over several days, weeks or months.
Lastly, be sure to end each chapter with a great hook or final line to keep readers from putting your book down. This could be a revelation, unanswered question or sudden discovery that can only be answered or revealed by reading further. The best suspense stories leave readers hungry for knowledge and anxious to know where the story’s ultimately leading.

Stories that touch the soul

Kaylin McFarren

Book: Severed Threads
Tagline: When true love's found, death has no end.
Believing herself responsible for her father’s fatal diving accident, Rachel Lyons has withdrawn from the world and assumed a safe position at a foundation office. When called upon by a museum director to assist her former love interest with the recovery of a cursed relic from a sunken Chinese merchant ship, she has no intention of cooperating – until her brother is kidnapped by a drug-dealing gangster. In order to save him and gain control over her life, Rachel must not only overcome her greatest fears, but also relive the circumstances that lead to her father’s death.

Buy links:

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Find Kaylin here



  1. Welcome, Kaylin. Excited to learn more about the ability to build suspense.

  2. Happy to answer any questions you might...


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