Today’s Tip: Tension Building
Want a quick and dirty tip that can help move your scene along at a quicker pace? Is your character in a sticky situation that has their heart pounding? One of the best ways to get your reader feeling the quickened pulse is to use shorter sentences. Instead of writing a long sentence with lots of commas and semi-colons, use multiple brief sentences. The clipped version will cause faster reading. As a result, they feel more like the character does. See the two examples below. Which one makes you feel more like the character does when you read it.
Jack knelt behind the couch with his pistol gripped in his sweaty palm as he listened to the sound of his enemy’s footsteps making their way down the hall. It felt like his heart would burst from his chest through his t-shirt and leather jacket at any moment, but he drew in a deep breath and tried to calm his nerves. Just one good shot is all he needed to get himself out of this mess. He could do that if he focused his thoughts and remained calm. He could hear his target getting closer. When the man was close enough, Jack burst up from behind the couch and fired his weapon. The enemy fell to the floor, his eyes wide. A bullet hole in his forehead let Jack know his aim had been true.
Jack knelt behind the couch, pistol in hand. He held his breath and listened. Footsteps padded down the hall in his direction. His heart thundered in his chest. He quietly exhaled. Just one good shot would get him out of this. He used the sound of the steps to focus. Another silent, deep breath. Two more steps and he should have a clean shot. One more step. Time slowed. Jack released the breath he’d been holding, jumped, turned, and fired all in one motion. The enemy’s head snapped back. The man’s knees buckled as Jack’s feet hit the floor. A bullet hole in the forehead told Jack his aim had been true.
Which example feels more tense? They both say the same thing. Using shorter sentences pulls the reader into the scene and holds their attention. With the drawn out explanation in fewer sentences, the reader spends more time keeping track of what is going on in each sentence. This leaves no chance to feel the intensity of the scene.
Did you enjoy this tip? Feel free to comment or share with a friend. Happy writing!