Thursday, March 6, 2014

Gold Medal Writing

You probably think I'm going to talk about how you should practice and never quit trying until you win. Nope. Though that is true.

Instead, I'm going to illustrate what tension looks and feels like.

My husband and I love watching the Olympics. We're not all that caught up in who wins. We genuinely want all the athletes to do well as they take their history-making runs.

We sit on the couch to watch the skiers and snowboarders. My body tenses as they start off. I'm leaning forward, alert.

I'm practically holding my breath as they defy gravity to make it down the hill. I fist pump when a move goes well.

"Yes! Did you see that? Wow."

I gasp and raise my hands to my lips when they fall.

"Oh crap. Are they okay? That must suck."

I exclaim when the judges, in my humble opinion, get it wrong. Irritation ignited a verbal response.

"What the heck were they thinking?"

"That other guy totally did better."

"This guy didn't even finish his run."

"Yes, I know there are levels of difficulty, but he only did three elements. The other guy did six."

And so it went, event after event.

The entire experience was visceral. We were in it. Our bodies reacted to it. I felt the tension and the elation and the letdown.

I want the same experience when I read a book. I want your plot and characters to be that real and the conflict that intense. I want to feel the highs and the lows and the unfairness.

Honestly, it doesn't happen that often for me. There are a lot of silver and bronze writers out there. I put down the books that don't deserve a medal.

If you give me an Olympic run, I will never forget it. If I had a supply of gold medals, I'd hang one around your neck. I will certainly anticipate your next run.

Here are a few articles to help you win the gold:

Seven Proven Ways to Pack Suspense

Pacing in Writing


Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.


  1. Donald Maass speaks of micro-tension, where there has to be something in every sentence that makes a reader want to know more. Engaging the reader is what it's all about.

    Terry's Place

  2. Love the article, Diana, and really appreciate the links to remind me what I read in the past and stored away in an inaccessible room in my memory. Reminders are always welcome! :-)

    Also, your description of your physical and verbal reactions to watching the Olympic games was hugely helpful. As writers, we sometimes forget to put ourselves (literally or figuratively) in the place of our characters and observe our responses to their situations. This brings a realism to our work that we can't get any other way. (Maryann might tell us that a bit of acting experience could go a long way in this area.)

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  4. Great article, Diana, and I loved the comparison to the Olympics. What a great illustration of how we need to engage readers. Too many new writers think all we have to do is come up with a good plot, a good story, and forget all about the emotional connection through tension and drama.

  5. Very helpful post, Diana. Keeping the tension going is important. As a reader, I keep reading when the tension builds. I'm hooked.

  6. This is wonderful, Diana. Despite the advice which Terry mentions, I don't think I want to inject tension into every sentence, but no tension makes for a dull, dull story. It would be like beginning a story with "And they all lived happily ever after" - and they *did*.


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