Tag Archives: action

To Add Tension, Use Short Sentences and Words

woman with boxing glove on left hand hitting man on chin
Thank you to Ryan McGuire and Pixaby for this image called “Argument>”

“To Add Tension, Use Short Sentences and Words” by Joan Y. Edwards

As a writer, the way your put your story together helps the reader get excited about your story. Where there is stress, anxiety, or tension, shorten your sentences and your words for the action.
If things are going smoothly and no change is in the wind, long sentences relax the reader. Don’t make them too long! Don’t make all the sentences the same length. You don’t want to put the reader to sleep or get bored. You want each sentence to add to the spark of your story.
Here are a few examples from books or movies to help you understand the use of short sentences to increase the tension, anxiety for your action.

1. Tomorrow Never Dies by Bruce Feirstein

Can you feature the humor that would come about with a James Bond movie with the script with a lot of long dialogue when James Bond is hanging in the air over a waterfall.
Instead of: “There has to be an easier way to earn
a living.” suppose he said,
“I’ve done a study of different occupations in the United States and Russia: teacher, policeman, cashier, football player, and doctor. One of them has to be an easier way to  earn a living. “


2. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

“Where’Papa going with that ax?” said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.
The opening paragraphs of the book are short. A lot of friction going on because Fern’s father is planning to kill the runt of the litter of pigs. It would have been harder to read a long drawn out description of the pig, the farm, and of Fern, what she was wearing, etc.

3. Back to the Future by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale 

Go to line 210  of script-
Marty’s afraid that Brown will be killed by the terrorists. Notice the short sentences and short words at the part where he’s going back to the future.
Marty says, “Oh No. I’m too late.”

4. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

In 1936 Margaret Mitchell wrote a  history of the Civil War in Gone with the Wind
Scarlett O”Hara says, “Where shall I go?”
Rhett Butler says: Frankly, my dear. I don’t give a …..


5. Liar, Liar written by Paul Guay and Stephen Mazur

Jim Carrey in Liar, Liar has a tough time convincing himself that the pen is blue after his son wishes that his father wouldn’t lie again. Here’s the scene on YouTube: Liar Liar – Jim Carrey – The Pen is Blue Scene (HD) – YouTube

6. Dial M for Murder (1954) by English playwright Frederick Knott.

Caught by the Wrong Key Scene (10/10)
In each of the six examples above, the sentences and words are short to help create tension, and suspense in books or movies.

What are some of your favorite sentences or groups of sentences that give readers the full tension of the story because of their brevity in words or length?

Thank you to the people who left a comment and shared their writing.

For the Contest – However, no one posted a story about the woman hitting the man in the chin with the boxing glove.


Bridget McNulty. NowNovel.com. “Pacing in Writing:” https://www.nownovel.com/blog/pacing-in-writing-5-tips/
Earnsy Liu. Technical Communications Association. “How Many Words Make a Sentence?” https://techcomm.nz/Story?Action=View&Story_id=106
Joslyn Chase. The Write Practice.com. “Story Pacing:” https://thewritepractice.com/story-pacing/
Quinton Collins.  Brafton..com. “The rhythm, the pace, the mind control: Syntax in writing:” https://www.brafton.com/blog/advanced-writing-techniques/the-rhythm-the-pace-the-mind-control-syntax-in-writing/

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Joan Y. Edwards, Author
Copyright © 2009-2021 Joan Y. Edwards

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Use Plain Said; Cut the “ly” words

Our elementary school writing teachers spent a great deal of time getting us to add interesting tag words to our writing.

“Help. The house is on fire,” John said excitedly.

“Just what we needed,” Eric shouted angrily.

Esther whispered dejectedly as she wiped her tears, “I am at the bottom of my barrel.”

The expert advice I’ve read says, “Use plain said.” Other words distract readers and take them out of your story (which you don’t want).  Distracting words are: uttered, whispered, shouted, repeated, stormed, chuckled, laughed, answered, or others that mean said.

Choose words for your dialogue that show the emotion.  Put words in your character’s mouth that would come from someone feeling that emotion.  What would your character say if he was excited?

To show “excitedly,” add a beat to your manuscript. A beat is writer’s jargon for action. Add action to show the emotion of your characters. What would your character do if he was excited? Add it to your manuscript.

Check your manuscript. Many times your dialogue already contains words that describe the emotion and then you added the “ly” word. Cut the “ly” words.  These “ly” words are telling words.  Replace your “ly” words with dialogue and action to show the emotion.

Here are three sources that explain using simple dialogue tags and leaving out adverbs in more detail.

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King.

Novel Metamorphosis by Darcy Pattison.


Please share your comments, questions, and/or resources below. I’d love to hear from you.

Thank you for reading my blog.

Joan Y. Edwards, Author/Illustrator

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