Your memoir needs suspense. Hook your reader and make her eager to know the outcome—but make her wait for it. Suspense implies an uncomfortable waiting mixed with impatience for a good resolution . It arouses curiosity. It keeps her reading.
Today we continue with these all-important ingredients for your memoir: Suspense. Tension. Conflict.
Becca Puglisi at Writers Helping Writers explains how she discovered the difference between conflict and tension.
A critiquer had returned one of Becca’s manuscripts and had noted, several times, the need for tension. “Where’s the tension?” and “Add more tension.” (Becca’s manuscript was fiction but remember: Many fiction techniques are important nonfiction techniques, too.)
Becca said, “No tension? What’s she talking about? The main character was just abandoned by her father. Her best friend was attacked by racist pigs. The family farm is about to go under.… There is conflict ALL OVER the place, so how can she say there’s no tension??”
Becca was puzzled but eventually recognized that conflict and tension are not necessarily the same thing. She adds, “Although the terms are often used interchangeably (and they CAN be synonymous), they aren’t necessarily the same.”
Conflict is when a character has a goal but an obstacle prevents him from reaching it.
Tension, on the other hand, stirs up the reader’s emotion, grabs hold of him, and makes him care about how the story will end—and it keeps him reading. Tension, Becca says, is “that tight, stretched feeling in your belly that makes you all jittery. That’s what you want your reader to feel.…”
Click on this link to read more of Becca’s Conflict vs.Tension.
So how do you stir up your reader’s emotion?
Your own emotion—excitement, fear, joy, doubt, wonderment, or awe—will impact your readers’ emotions.
“Emotion is an involuntary action:
The best stories in the world
always have an emotional appeal.
They inspire the audience to act, to think,
to laugh, to cry or to get angry. …
If an audience is moved to feel something,
they become more emotionally invested in a story
based on that connection.”
How much tension should a writer include?
Every scene should have tension, FaithWriter’s Lillian Duncan says, sometimes big, sometimes little. “It may be internal or external. It may be real or imagined, but there should be a sense of unpredictability in every scene.…”
Lillian offers this word of caution: Melodrama is not a mark of good writing. Avoid overwriting. “Keep your ‘flowery’ writing to a minimum.”
Click here to see Lillian’s checklist on how to avoid overwriting. It includes:
Too many adverbs and adjectives
Emotional reaction equal to the event
Cut every unnecessary word
Read more at Lillian’s Writing Suspense. Many if not all of her fiction techniques also apply to nonfiction.