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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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Readers Need an Emotional Tug-of-War…Tension


“Readers Need an Emotional Tug-of-War…Tension” by Joan Y. Edwards

Tug on the heart strings of your reader. The reader must want the main character to win as desperately as your character does. You want the reader to  feel the tension your character feels.

Show your characters tugging with all kinds of emotions. Happy ones. Sad ones. Fearful ones. Pull your reader this way and that way. Don’t stay stuck on the same emotion. Don’t always have the character win. Show his rope of life pulling him so strongly that he tumbles and falls several times in your story. Add tension to your story.

Mesmerize your reader throughout the whole story…from the first chapter through the last chapter. Keep your readers there from the beginning to the finish line.

Donald Maass in a workshop at the Pike’s Peak Writer’s Conference said you must have tension in your story. The dialogue and the descriptions have to show both sides of the picture. Show how the characters are pulled toward believing they can get the job or their goal and on the other hand and doubting they can get any job or can’t reach their goal because of the way they fouled it up last time.

Inside our heads every day we have these opposite points of view. We have at least 50,000 thoughts a day. So do the characters in your story. Show they’re human. Share their thoughts. Their thoughts depict their emotions.

Give your character one big strength and one big weakness, or give them one small strength and show its growth through your story. Our humanity is what we have in common with other people. Each of us has strengths and weaknesses.

Good luck with your writing!

“Backstory’s Emotional Weight” by Darcy Pattison

“Creating Emotional Conflict and Tension in a Romance Novel” by Dummies.comhttp://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/creating-emotional-conflict-and-tension-in-a-roman.html

“Creative Writing: Crafting Characters with Emotional Appeal in Mind” by Lenin Nair http://cutewriting.blogspot.com/2008/09/creative-writing-crafting-characters.html

1. The Fire in Fiction: Passion, Purpose and Techniques to Make Your Novel Great by Donald Maass.

2. Make a Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time (Paperback) Jordan Rosenfeld http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1582974799/ref=oss_product

3. Writer’s Guide to Character Traits (Paperback) by Dr. Linda Edelstein:

4. Writing for Emotional Impact (Paperback) by Karl Iglesias:

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Joan Y. Edwards
Copyright © 2010-2023 Joan Y. Edwards. All rights reserved.
Revised January 4, 2023