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What's An Aspiring Author To Do?

This column is based on questions Margaret gets asked by those who also want to write romance novels. The answers are based on her personal experience. Every author must and should find their own way along this path; however, sometimes it helps to know how it was for an author who's reached the goal of publication.

This column's question:
Narrative Tension: What is it and how do I get it?

Margaret answers:
To put it in its most simple terms, narrative tension is what keeps the reader reading, because they're wondering what's going to happen next.

The best way to do that, in a romance or any other work of fiction, is to create characters that the readers care about, that they feel emotionally invested in. If the reader cares about your characters and what happens to them, they'll keep reading. If the reader doesn't care about your characters, they won't care about your story. So, first and foremost, you must create interesting, realistic characters that your readers can empathize with -- characters your readers can cheer, or hiss and boo, depending upon their role in your story.

But there's more to it than that. Interesting activity, risk, danger (whether physical or emotion risk or danger) should also be present. The tension is propelled by the *conflict* your characters face, and their decisions as to how to resolve that conflict, whether it's internal conflict (issues within themselves) or external (other forces working against them).

In a romance, the reader knows the eventual outcome (a lasting, loving relationship between the hero and heroine), so the narrative tension comes from the various conflicts. These conflicts should increase in magnitude and with potentially more serious outcomes. As the conflicts worsen, the tension grows, and the readers are more invested in seeing a happy outcome.

If you're writing a short romance, you don't have the "room" for a lot of different conflicts; however, in a longer, single title novel, you do.

That being said, every conflict in a romance novel should have an impact on the developing relationship between the hero and heroine.

Some Technical Writing Tools to Create Tension:
Dramatic Irony -- the reader knows something the characters don't
Foreshadowing -- the author hints or implies future developments

HOWEVER,unrelieved tension is not good, either. It creates so much anxiety in the reader, they can't enjoy themselves.

Therefore, the tension should be relieved -- hence the term "comic relief."
The relief doesn't have to be comical, as in humorous. It can simply be a lighter, less tense mood, such as a moment of tenderness between the couple, or engaging in an everyday activity. This sort of scene also helps to make your characters seem more like real people leading normal lives.
The trick is to lighten the anxiety enough to relieve the extreme tension, but not enough that the reader puts the book down. Scenes providing relief should be shorter than the dramatic scenes.

A good place for relief is:
* immediately after a moment of high tension or drama
* immediately after a major decision, before any consequences occur.

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This material is Margaret's intellectual property. If you would like to print it out for your personal use, feel free. If you belong to a writing group and would like to reproduce it for your fellow writers, please e-mail Margaret at maggiejmoore @ (no spaces). All other use is prohibited.

Copyright © 2005 by Margaret Wilkins. This material may not be copied without permission.