2 min read

Three steps to increasing tension in your web serial.

First up in the series on serial fiction is Angie Capozello. Angie is the author of the serial fiction Nox and Grimm. She's the founder of the Penny Dreadful and a serious champion of serial fiction. And generally an awesome person.

She joins us today to talk about one of the key elements in serial fiction: tension.


Three steps to increasing tension in your web serial

One of the keys to writing a web series is tension. The rise and fall of tension is what sets the pacing for every episode, and keeps the readers hooked. But how do you add it without falling into the trap of using the same few tricks to build tension?  Let’s face it, you can only write so many fight scenes before it starts to get repetitive and you lose your audience. So, here’s a look at the nuts and bolts of what makes tension work.

First, your character has to want something.  They need to find something, or to lose it; to change it or fix it. They want something to stop, or to start.

Second, deny it to them.  Or at least, make them work really hard for it.

To give you an example, let’s start with a child who’s been forbidden to eat a cookie. It’s not enough to say, “The girl really wanted that cookie.”  Zzzzzz… your audience just fell asleep.

What’s missing here is the third component – the physical reaction to that desire.  People gather a huge amount of information by reading body language, without ever realizing it. It generates a reaction in the reader, and it’s something that we, as writers, can capitalize on.  Let’s try that example again.

…Lilly leaned forward, almost on tiptoe, her nose an inch from the cookie.  Her hands were firmly clasped behind her back, however, because she was a Good Girl, and Mommy said No Cookies. But there it was, smelling of warm chocolatey goodness fresh out of the oven. She eyed it with mournful intensity, rocking back and forth as she debated whether Mommy would notice one little bite…

Voila! Tension without sex or violence. It can be done! J  Pay attention to how people look when they want something; Facial expressions, where their hands are, their shoulder and back posture, and what their feet are doing. Watch cartoons, animators know very well how to create tension through body language.

Dialogue can also be used to create tension, but that’s a pretty big topic. The best thing I can tell you is to keep the dialogue relevant to what they want, and keep it concise. You can lose all the tension with a long, clunky exchange, or by wandering off on a tangent.

The last part is the payoff, or resolution.  Something has to break the tension at the end of the scene so you can set up the next one.  Does the girl get the cookie? The physical reaction to this is important as well. Have you ever known a little kid to just say ‘thanks’ when given a cookie? No, they bounce, squeal, hug Mommy and run outside with the cookie stuffed in their mouth.

So there you have it – problem (want/denied), reaction (body language), resolution (payoff).  Now all you have to do is add the next problem. Tummy ache, perhaps? ;)

Good luck, and have fun writing those scenes!

Join us tomorrow when Kate from Candlemark and Gleam on a Publishers perspective to serial fiction


Angie Capozello writes the weekly fantasy web serial, Nox and Grimm.  You can catch her on twitter @techtigger or on Google plus +Angie Capozello