The craft of #writing: ratcheting chapter tension

Like a pinball, your story bounces around in your head, hitting your occipital lobe, hippocampus, and the front of your brain, lighting them all up with the act of creation. If you are a master writer, you light up the caudate nucleus, which handles skills gained over time. Creating a story uses tons of brain power and is an exhausting process.

Storytelling, though woven into the human soul, is a learned skill. And one thing we all need to learn is how to ratchet the tension so that you draw the reader into the story.

How do you structure a chapter?

For each third of your story, turn the action and ratchet the stakes. Assign an escalating emotion for the character to feel during each third of the chapter. So for a 2K chapter, you have 667 words to describe the chapter set up in which to set up the stakes for the character. This can be the reflection from the action of the previous chapter, or a memory, or sometimes a dream that hooks into the theme of the story.

To plan how I do this in each chapter, I use the following sheet in the workbook I put together to craft stories for my ghostwriting clients. Escalating the emotional content of a chapter automatically ratchets the tension.

The next section, introduce a new element. The character learns new information that changes her perspective, or a new character walks into the scene. In between the action you write the character’s emotions about what is happening.

The last third you write the results of what just happened and write the character’s escalated or de-escalated emotions. In the last paragraph, you set the hook for the next chapter.

Within each third, your action goes like this; 1.) your character observes something. 2.) your character has thoughts and emotions about the observation. 3.) the character reacts either with action or a conclusion about the action the character observed. How do word count limitations affect what you can fit into a story?

What do you think? As a writer, how do you heighten the tension of your chapter? Add a comment!

Image by Martin Hradil from Pixabay

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