12 Ways to Increase Tension

Even the simplest story is driven forward on the back of the basic questions ‘What will happen next?’ and ‘What is really going on?’ They are the devices which create and increase suspense. But what are some simple, practical ways to introduce them into your story?

Here are some ideas:

1. Accuse someone.

Early on in your story, have someone dramatically point at someone else and, in the hearing of your protagonist, accuse them of something serious. Perhaps a murder victim indicating who did it? This creates the expectation in the reader that your protagonist will eventually encounter this person and they will be watching for it.

2. Give the reader a false break.

You’ve all seen this in horror movies. Have the unprotected character search around the old, abandoned house - and apparently find nothing. Then, just as your character sighs with relief and relaxes a little, pounce.

3. Lure someone deeper in.

Labyrinths and dungeons are great ways to make readers wonder what will happen next. Lead your characters deeper into someone’s lair. In Polanski’s film Macbeth, Banquo’s murderers are guided away from the exit of the castle, down into chambers that they have not seen, to their sudden and watery death. With every downward step, tension goes up.