Writing Exercise: Tension Arrows

Photo by Susan Q Yin on Unsplash

After a read, I had the following feedback for an author:

Are you trying for thriller or horror vibe? I think the scare factor / tenseness needs to be ramped up a notch. This can be done by increasing the urgency (thriller leaning) or the uneasiness (horror). At the moment, the tenseness is steady throughout the book – might be helpful to work on building some up-and-down into the manuscript.

Tension needed to be ratcheted up within the story, but not all at once, and certainly not without some relief now and again. The roller-coaster ride needed to be put into play. In this particular case, a slow build was needed to start, but getting faster with time … taking a break now and again … then slam readers as they relax.

The tool I suggested to help visual this ride is place an arrow beside each build of tension, making sure to have at least one arrow per chapter. Adding more arrows as the manuscript progresses (3 or 4 per chapter by the end). Make a flat line or down arrow for each “break” from building tension.

WRITING EXERCISE: Write a tension-building scene. Add tension arrows once done.

My Attempt

The gun meant nothing. To him. To me. As it sat waiting between us.

Off to the side, the clock ticked, ticked, ticked. One of the old analog clocks of a bygone era, like the gun.

Peace. The world was at peace. Both of us could feel the calming emissions working their way through the layers of concrete between us and the city outside, but the scents blown up from the subway vents and billowing out of the skyscraper doorways had been replaced by mildew and dust in this time-forgotten subbasement.

We had left our cells at the entrance, before making our way down here. No tracking, no emissions.

Just us.

And a nothing gun.

He twitched. I moved faster.

The explosion pounded my chest, and I dropped the heavy metal object when the hot residual sprayed back.

(words 138, first published 11/22/2022)