Creating tension: your best tips

Hi all!

So Im writing a romance with a paranormal sub genre.

My characters are attracted to one another but I wanted to ask what are your best tips for creating tension? How do u drive your readers insane and have the rooting for your couple to hook up?

Share away plz!

Bookmarked! Always watching the topics about tension.

For romance, I’d have to say draw everything put atvs reasonable pace for the story. If the climax is them getting together, then you’re job is build up to that point with every chapter in some way. You have to give small releases along the way as well.

I would imagine the key is in the internal dialogue of the characters. Both want each other, and both have something standing in their way of being with each other. It should be a constant emotional struggle to overcome the obstacle(s) that keeps them from each other while the underlying law of attraction pulls them together despite their resistance.

Example, Jane brushed passed me as I held the door open. The sweet scent of her hair wafted into my nose. I always found her scent intoxicating. She was wearing a burgundy button up blouse and grey pencil skirt… god her ass was shaped perfectly by the tight…

“John,” she said. I hadn’t realized she turned around. I felt my heart race. She’d caught me checking her out I know it. “Are you coming, or are you the company doorman now?”

A coy smile played across her ruby lips. I saw a slight red streak across her cheek before she turned and walked away. Her hips seemed to swing a little more as she did. If only she wasn’t my boss…

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I think part of it is also creating conflict to keep them apart but not going too far. If they’re subject to one bad thing after another, I’m just going to get tired of them, I mean that’s super depressing, but I typically see this as a problem between series.

Also the big moments for me are like the 'KISS KISS KISS" moments, where they’re like almost there, but something stops them and it’s so frustrating, but you HAVE to keep going. They don’t have to be near kisses, but in my own work, I usually create a couple of scenes where the mood is just right and the feelings are perfect and everything’s going to plan, but then the conversation just takes a complete u-turn at the height of tension.

In the meantime, small touches, internal thoughts (even if the narrator is going through them), even pure denial, and acting as the matchmake and tossing your charcters into romantic situations only for them to rebel on you.

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My tip is don’t try to explain everything to the reader…let some things be open to the reader’s interpretation. There’s nothing more tedious when a writer explains too much about how a person is thinking or feeling instead of showing in more subtle ways so that the reader fathoms it out themselves.

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I wrote a romance, thriller, suspense novel a while… while back, and I was at a loss on how to go about wracking up that tension. I did the whole dual POV of the girl and guy. I liked when they misread situations, scenes, and ran with it, but the reader, having seen both sides is kinda like, “No, no! You don’t understand!”

Or like, I end one POV on a cliff hanger, so the readers have no clue what’s going on, and neither does the other narrator who’s trying to find the character. I enjoy the whole, getting right up on that line of romance, then skirting away because of some truth that’s finally revealed to the other character, who won’t listen to why and leaves for some time to cool off. Or you see how detrimental the absence is for both characters.

My characters got together a third of the way, so they went through some arguments that turned ugly.

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My advice is going to sound strange and you may or may not want to take it, but here it is.

Read smut and practice writing smut.

Yes, read a truckload of really, really well written smut. Why? Because no other scenes will ever stretch you as thin as smut and a writer who really knows how to write them can (and must be able to) make readers salivate and shiver at the sight of a button being undone.

Once you’ve learned how to write smut you can apply the skill to all kinds of tension. A well-written smut teaches you to focus on the character’s emotions, reactions, body parts, and expressions and how to use them to bring about tension. What you need to make your readers root for your couple is small, classy touches of foreplay that builds up gradually to the climax. It doesn’t have to be physical. Smut writers can stir up your emotions with the simplest act of eating an apple or drinking coffee. You’ll learn how to make one look powerful enough to trip a person, to make pauses and punctuations that solidify the air in readers’ lungs, that sort of thing. I’ve used the smut writing technique to create tension for political meetings even, and it works amazingly.

In smut you will read or write:
He pins her down to the bed with his eyes as he draws nearer. His hand slips out of his pocket and reaches for her, pausing just above her button for a moment, lingering there, deciding when and how he would undo it. She holds her breath as she watches, hear heart pounding against her ribs imagining the moment his finger touches her blouse. Etc.

In a meeting you’ll learn to write:

Silence fills the room as he walks in. His footsteps firm and precise, demanding absolute attention from the entire room of twelve men who straightened abruptly in his presence. He sits, in a deliberately slow manner, and waits for his coffee to be filled before he reaches for the paper. His finger rubs back and forth along the sheet as he reads, and then it stops, and twelve beating hearts stop with it.

It’s an unconventional advice but I’ve learned so much from reading and exercising writing smut. I hope that helps. :slight_smile:

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Yup. It’s attention to detail that builds up tension. This is where long narratives are needed XD

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Lots of lingering gazes and accidental touches. Maybe one leans it just a bit too close. Things that create tension in real life, yknow?

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I think something that would help with tension is the situation. Something brings the characters together and in that moment there is something electric about their connection. Their feelings are charged but something holds one of the characters back from acting on those feelings.

Building romantic and sexual tension is the best part of writing romance imo.

Definitely focus on their internal monologue and thought process. Create a good balance between comedic banter, flirting, and those Soft Moments™. Body language is huge too - focus on the bodily response to touch and proximity and lingering gazes.

Subtlety is key - it makes the reader yearn for more.

Those are some tips, but really, I think one of the best ways to get better at writing romance is to consume a lot of romantic material. See which tropes work and which ones don’t. What excites you as a consumer/reader about a couple? How does the writer/directory portray romance? Study the patterns and it’ll come easy soon enough.

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I never thought of smut! And I read very little of it to be honest because its hard to find good ones.

Any recommendations?

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I haven’t been reading off WP that much and I found many good ones in fanfics elsewhere, but I’m pretty sure you can find some here. But if you read published books too, Sarah J. Maas did a great job in the Court of Thorns and Roses series. Naomi Novik was also great in Uprooted. And if you’re into mxm I think I’ve just read the best smut ever in The Steel Remains by Richard Morgan.

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Am I wrong in thinking smut is completely… written porn, no plot?

I’m not sure of the term but I’ve been under the impression that it just means explicit sex scenes? :sweat_smile:

I’ve only seen it used as written porn, but maybe I’m wrong? Like… romance, erotica, smut – in a mild to more explicit content spectrum.

According to this it can be both with or without plot I guess.

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First and foremost, this:

…

Now onto my own two cents.

Romantic/Sexual tension is not about having sex. It’s about the fact that they haven’t had sex yet. Then once they do, its about them falling in love.

Each little move towards them getting closer is waaay better than having sex by chapter 5.

Also, remember that sex can come before love. I have one romance where the book ended, they did the deed, but the readers are dying for the sequel because they never advanced romantically, and they are all desperate for the tender side from my male MC lol

A quick list:

  1. Sexual tension is about the build up to sex, not sex itself
  2. Focus heavily on their emotions. When you focus on emotion, then throw in the primal reactions, it’s a great mixture for the reader
  3. Sexual tension and Romantic tension are two different things. Use that to your advantage. I often use sexual tension as the first thing to lure them together, then develop the romance element second.
  4. Create a conflict, so they have reasons not to be together. Can be major or small. It will make the stakes of their relationship so much fun. Fan or not of Twilight, him being a vampire and her being a human was a huge source of conflict and is a major reason it was so popular
  5. Focus on the charatcers perception of everything. Often, it’s their perception of the other character that gets readers excited
  6. Your readers are smart. They are reading a romance. They know two charatcers are going to get together. You can make them not have instant connection, and your readers will know what’s up
  7. Chemistry doesnt just mean thay they flirt well. It means they have things in common, and banter over it. I have a romance where the Male MC takes the Female MC for the bounty on her head, and even ties her to a tree when he needs to leave her behind for a job he’s doing lol. The readers loved it. My characters were not romantic at all, but they had great chemistry because they both worked in the same profession and had the same dark sense of humor, so their banter worked well. Add some sexual tension there and you got a mixture for readers begging for more
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Thank you so much for breaking things down! Will take it to heart:)

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This is true in adult literature, however as a YA writer, all I have to go on is a kiss, although it’s definitely the same concept—however—you can definitely “break” tension by introducing a sex/kiss scene too early, especially depending on how you build that couple. If you don’t set the stakes early on as to why falling in love or becoming romantically attached to someone might benefit both characters in the future or at least change direction for them and show readers why they match well together even if they can’t see it, then you’ll snap the rubber band that is sexual tension right after the first kiss or time that they have sex.

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