Ratchet Up Your Novel’s Tension



by Kelsie Engen

Did you know there is one super easy way to ratchet up the tension in your novel? It doesn’t take much work on your part, but it creates an immense amount of pressure for your characters. And we all know that pressure=tension=page turner.

So what is this one little trick? It’s nothing fancy, I assure you. But it’s something that many authors use and many forget about.


Think about some of the best passages in the best books you’ve read. If you’re a Harry Potter fan–what made those books page turners? Time. All too often, by the climax of the book, Harry was running out of time. He had to rush to save someone, rush to defeat Lord Voldemort, or rush to get through the maze and get the Triwizard Tournament trophy.

If you’re not a fan of HP, just insert your favorite page-turning story and consider what influence time has on the urgency of the plot.

In Catching Fire, for instance, the entire arena is built around the idea of time. The arena resembles a clock, and different dangers present themselves every hour. How much more time-related can you get? And how much did that create constant pressure to move from one segment to another in the arena? The clock made it impossible for Katness and her allies to remove themselves from a segment if the “clock hand” was already within the segment they stood in. While there was no time limit for them to survive in the arena, this is a masterful use of time to create tension and uncertainty.


  1. urgency for the main characters
  2. a deadline to complete a task
  3. the possibility of failure (uncertainty)

These are just a few examples off the top of my head of how time can influence your plot.

Say you write YA and have a character who has to get to school, but that morning his alarm doesn’t go off. Big deal, right? So he misses his bus, and he’s late for school. Eh, he’ll be fine. But now you mention that he’s got a test that starts at 8:05, and they lock the door to his classroom at 8:00. Guess what? His alarm didn’t go off until 7:30. And it takes 25 minutes to make the drive to school on a good day. And this test is 50% of his grade. And if he fails this test, he won’t get into the college he dreams of attending because his teacher doesn’t give make-up tests for unexcused absences. Suddenly being late for school is a huge deal. All because one tiny little alarm didn’t go off.

Time can be a huge factor in your novel–if you use it right. Obviously you wouldn’t want to use the example above unless that test really meant something. But if the entire goal of the book was for the MC to get into the college of his dreams and he is overcoming his poor background and upbringing to get a scholarship for an Ivy league school, well, this would be perfectly applicable.





Guest post contributed by Kelsie Engen. Kelsie loves to read and started her blog to share that passion with others of like mind.

226373498_dacf4f263f_bNeed help with your book or novel? Check out the Writer’s Toolbox, a list of free, discounted, and overall helpful links to tools and benefits to help you with what you do best: writing.




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