From Gators to Mountain Lions

12 Nov

Most of you know that my husband, dachshund and I recently moved from Florida to Boise, Idaho. So, when I recently saw a headline in the paper and on Yahoo news about a search being on for a mountain lion, I couldn’t help smiling. In Florida, a search might be on for an alligator—on a golf course or even in an unsuspecting neighbor’s swimming pool. And in either case, we’d have to keep an eye on our adventurous dachshund, who would make a nice meal for either of them.   

This got me to thinking about the dangers or threats our characters experience in our books. In order to keep tension high, our characters need to face their challenges, be they internal or external. I grew up in a peaceful, loving family that didn’t like conflict, so one of my many writing challenges has been to keep my characters in danger or conflict for extended periods of time.

I write fantasy for children and I love creating a challenging world for them. In one of my stories, the hero is confronted by a huge, hairy spider, guarding the cave of the mystical Man of the Mountain. Because I, myself, freak over spiders, it was difficult to write the scene where the spider entraps the hero’s companion and how the hero must save him. But by using danger to create tension, I was able (I hope) to bring out the hero’s character and his growth. (Other scenes were easier!)

Creating tension increases pacing, keeping the reader involved. Sounds simple, but many stories aren’t by nature suspenseful.  That’s where inner and outer conflict comes into play. Not always easy to write effectively. What tricks have you used to create tension in your stories?


Posted by on November 12, 2012 in Idaho


16 responses to “From Gators to Mountain Lions

  1. Clarissa Southwick

    November 12, 2012 at 8:02 AM

    Great advice, Judy! I tend to ask myself, “What is the worst thing that could possibly happen to my character right now?” That tends to keep the obstacles coming!

  2. Judith Keim

    November 12, 2012 at 8:05 AM

    Once I get into it, it’s a lot of fun!!

  3. Peggy Staggs

    November 12, 2012 at 9:15 AM

    I even have a book called Worst Case Scenario…somewhere. It’s a balancing act between plunking your character into trouble and how fast you get them out. If you miss the whole equilibrium of the story can suffer.

  4. stephanieberget

    November 12, 2012 at 9:20 AM

    Thanks, Judy. I have trouble keeping my characters in trouble, too. Thanks for reminding me to create tension. 😉

  5. Judith Keim

    November 12, 2012 at 9:21 AM

    That’s the fun part of writing, Peggy. I’m in the experience along with my characters because my plotting is more like “Pantsing” LOL

  6. Judith Keim

    November 12, 2012 at 9:24 AM

    Thanks, Steph…

  7. Jennifer

    November 12, 2012 at 11:04 AM

    Creating tension is so hard for me because I love my characters and I want them to be happy. I try to remind myself that they will be even happier together when they’ve had to overcome multiple obstacles. Of course, it also helps if their goals are on opposite ends of the spectrum.

  8. Janis McCurry

    November 12, 2012 at 11:11 AM

    I usually lean towards psychological “dangers” vs. physical danger. The fascinating parts of the human mind and how nurture/nature has affected actions. FREX: Why a person refuses to get married. Is it because his/her parents had a horrible marriage and stayed together anyway? Or got divorced and one of the parents dropped out of the kid’s life (corollary is why an adult might not want to bring a child into the world that might lose a parent the same way). Or was the parents’ marriage so great and one died and the other went off the rails (stopped living), so the adult child doesn’t want to fall that deeply in love, and thus suffer heartbreak in that way. Enter a potential love interest and we have trouble in River City.

    • Judith Keim

      November 12, 2012 at 3:48 PM

      Excellent, Janis! You’re right, the psychological dangers are more interesting and when you combine them, wow! Thanks for the insight!

  9. Judith Keim

    November 12, 2012 at 11:11 AM

    I know what you mean, Jennifer! Life lessons equal growth…

  10. Meredith Allen Conner

    November 12, 2012 at 11:36 AM

    I hate to torture my characters too, but I know I am doing it well when I end up teary eyed myself.

  11. Judith Keim

    November 12, 2012 at 12:46 PM

    That’s the best, Meredith! Love that you do that!

  12. maryvine

    November 12, 2012 at 2:53 PM

    What a good question, Judith. It’s fun to read everyone’s answer. I have a hard time making my characters suffer and it’s a good reminder to be a kick-as writer 🙂

    • Judith Keim

      November 12, 2012 at 3:49 PM

      Mary, I need those reminders to let myself go with my characters without internal checks… Thanks!

  13. Lynn Mapp

    November 12, 2012 at 8:48 PM

    Judith, conflict is a HUGE issue for me. I don’t have any tricks. I hate conflict. I hate conflict. I hate conflict. I must create conflict. You can see I’m at war with myself, hence, conflict.

  14. Judith Keim

    November 12, 2012 at 10:13 PM

    Lynn, I hear you!!! Not easy in life, not easy in fiction! But if there’s a bad guy around, it can be fun to write about it! 🙂


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