Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Six Ways to Escalate the Plot

We all know we need tension on every page. That the story and plot has to be gripping enough to pull the reader from page to page. There's the old metaphor of how, when a scene starts slowing down, you bring in a man with a gun. But beyond actually doing that, (and that might not fit anyway), what are some things you can do to boost the tension? Here are some ideas.

1. Give your protagonist a handicap. Maybe physical. If they're in a hurry, give them a bum knee or a flat tire. If they have to give a speech make them lose their voice. If they have to take a test give them a head-cold. Do NOT make things easy for them.

2. Increase "room conflict." In theater/acting, the term "room conflict" refers to how the room or place the characters are in makes the situation even more difficult. For example, if it's really cold or really hot. Or if it's so noisy they can barely hear each other. Or if it smells really bad or your characters allergic to the cat. I think this could work in writing too, and it only makes things harder for your characters.

3. Take away the main ally. If your character has a best friend or supportive parent or mentor, take them away. Or at least remove them from each other. Maybe the mentor has helped him up to this point, but now he has to do it on his own. Dumbledore could only help Harry so much, and then he had to do it all by himself/with the ghosts (?) of his dead parents.

4. Bring in the one person your protagonist DOESN'T want to see. Her ex? His old boss? The co-worker he screwed over? The brother he hasn't spoken with in seven years? Bring them in.

5. Tighten the deadline. What's worse than a bomb? A bomb that's going to go off in FIVE MINUTES. If your character is chasing down a killer, give the killer a flight to Cuba in four hours. If your character has a paper due in two weeks, shorten it to two days. If your character is trying to find something for a birthday party, make that birthday party tomorrow. Or better yet, in fifteen minutes. If your character doesn't have a deadline, give them one, and if they do, shorten it.

6. Secondary Character Misfire. Say your main character has a younger brother. What is the one thing she would never expect him to do? Have him do it. Is her boyfriend a Darcy-esque silent type? What would she do if all the sudden he went loopy? Is his boss usually a pushover? What if today he was a total jerk? This isn't a change in your protagonist herself, but it gives her something else she has to deal with, at least temporarily.

So there you have it, six ways to escalate tension and quicken your plot. Hopefully they help. Anything else you would add to this list?

Sarah Allen


  1. Your list is perfect! It is truly helpful!

    p.s. Stephan Donaldson had his main character have leprosy!

  2. Great tips, Sarah. No wonder you are such a good writer!!!

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  4. Right now I'm struggling with the lat 1/4 of my WiP that needs finishing before August. This list has definitely given me something to think about & play with.

    Thank so much!!


  5. Spot on, Sarah! Great points here!

  6. Thank you for this! This'll help me a lot in my book. SO HARD to create that sense of stress that I want!

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  8. Great, great suggestions. I plan to use them. Thanks for the list!


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