Monday, February 21, 2011

How to Create Tension in a Single Character Scene



I’m sure you can imagine all kinds of ways a two or more character scene can have tension. But what about a scene with only one character in it? Impossible? Not so. Important? You betcha.

If your character is alone in a scene, (which should be rarely, by the way,) he’d better be going through some major inner turmoil. He’s frustrated because he can’t solve the mystery. He’s worn out from all the events he’s been through thus far and doesn’t see an end to any of it.

If your character is in a car, traveling to another scene, use this opportunity for him to reflect on past events. Maybe something he sees along the way triggers a bad memory. Or a familiar song comes on the radio and tosses him into the past (not literally). Make this scene do double duty. Don’t bore the reader by forcing her to watch as Dude drives from point A to point B.

You shouldn’t put your characters to bed, unless you’re going to torture them. If your character can’t sleep because he’s haunted by the day’s events or worried about the heroine, by all means show us his grueling thoughts and emotions. Or maybe he rolls over and smells his missing wife’s perfume on her pillow, causing him to worry all the more. What ever you do, don’t just have him go to sleep. Think: How can I add tension to this scene?

Tension and conflict are two crucial elements in your story that will force the reader to read on.

Want to learn other ways to hook your reader? Join my class: Hook, Line, and Sinker: How to Hook Readers and Reel Them In. Slots are filling up, so don’t delay.

Can you think of other ways to add tension to a single character scene?

10 comments:

  1. Thank you, these are great tips and I'll use them in my latest WIP.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great advice! Inner dialogue and reflection is sometimes just as important to the plot as real dialogue is. Thanks for sharing this. =)

    Tessa

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks for the advice! You made some great points.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Great tips. It's hard to keep the story moving in a single-character scene, but when you can pull it off, it can do a lot! Thanks for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Love this! Thanks for sharing your wisdom.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I had to laugh at the line about putting your characters to bed. Does psychological torture count?
    Great, great post!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Thanks, everyone. I'm glad you enjoyed this post.

    Lydia: Yep, psychological torture is a great way to add tension to a scene. hehehe

    Lynnette Labelle
    www.lynnettelabelle.com

    ReplyDelete
  8. I'm always leery of scenes like the character is just driving in the car. These sorts of scenes can kill the pace or your story. I think it's important to remember that every scene must move the story forward. Something has to happen. If the secen is really just a character driving from point A to point B reflecting, even if the emotion is there, it's still a throw away scene. Now, if he's driving and thinking and discovers he has no breaks and swerves and hits a tree, or he notices a strange smell coming the back of the car, pulls over and finds a body in his trunk. Now, that's going to move the story forward. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  9. Dawn: I sort of agree, but not exactly. A story moving forward doesn't necessarily mean something has to happen (plot) as long as we're discovering something about the character (character development), which can be done through emotions.

    Lynnette Labelle
    www.lynnettelabelle.com

    ReplyDelete
  10. All good points. Thanks for sharing!

    ReplyDelete