The other sister

Hi gang, Craig with you again today. We’re going to talk about something that could really help in your stories. I’m going to use the analogy of two sisters.

We all know Suspense. She’s pretty, gets invited to parties, and can carry a story all by herself. Readers are drawn to her like bees to honey. “Any more at home like her?” Funny you should ask. She has a sister.

This sister can really fill in the gaps in your tale, but she’s hard to get close to. She takes a bit of practice. Her name is Tension.


Your first attempts to talk with her might feel clumsy and forced, but it’s worth struggling through. She’s a powerful friend if you take the time.

She works like this: Things shouldn’t be comfortable for your main characters. Suspense can make them flip the pages, but if everything between the turning points is sunny and fluffy, it can get boring. Tension keeps things interesting.

It’s time for a couple of examples. Suspense buries someone alive and sets a timer for when they run out of air. (And she looks good doing it. “Selfie!”) Your main character could go from Plot Point A to B and Suspense will keep people interested.

Driving to the rescue is boring. However, Tension provides that flat tire at the creepiest part of the highway. Tension provides the darkness that’s setting fast. Tension makes sure the AAA guy can’t get there for hours, so she ramps up the ticking clock to whatever Suspense had planned. (In this case, rescuing the victim.)

Maybe your character fussed over an outfit for weeks, got her hair and nails done, then went to the wedding reception. There’s a cute guy chatting with the groom. Tension provides the marinara sauce she got on her dress. She provided the photographer your character wants to avoid now that her dress is stained. Oh, and just for laughs, Tension decided the caterer is an old flame that wants to get back together. Tension interferes with your character getting to the new hunk that is Plot Point B.

Tension is the master of broken GPS systems, shorebirds who dive-bomb your hair, service of a lawsuit, and many things that seem beneath Suspense’s notice. Suspense is wonderful, but Tension can make her even more wonderful.

Sprained ankles, lipstick on your teeth, or Apartment 12C who partied all night, aren’t plot points. They don’t exactly drive the story, but they can add so much between those plot points. You can thank Tension for them.

Suspense gets all the glory, her Instagram page has a million fans, while Tension goes relatively unnoticed. She likes it that way and you should keep that in mind when writing. This is where it might feel clunky and forced, so you have to work through the first awkward dates. After that, she becomes a strong ally.

Do you have a relationship with Tension? Did I just put off all the female readers of this blog by making Tension a young woman? (You can make him a guy and date him, too.) Let me hear from you.

75 thoughts on “The other sister

  1. Pingback: The other sister – Inspirational life Lessons

  2. I loved this post, Craig! I think I’m more friends with Tension than Suspense, but it doesn’t surprise me. The introvert in me doesn’t like much attention. Subtlety appeals to me.

    You’ve hit the nail on the head with this post. A story with only suspense will get my heart racing, but a story with tension will make me remember it for a long time. Great post, Craig! 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I got behind this week and just found this, but it’s GREAT. You gave a really good explanation of tension. Things never quite work right when she’s around so the protagonist has to work harder to get what she wants. Nice job!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Pingback: #ReblogAlert – This Week on #StoryEmpire | The Write Stuff

  5. Wonderful points, Craig, and just the right amount of humor to get them across! I love this post for that alone, but I also think I can learn to be a better writer by taking heed of what you’ve said. So for that reason, I love it even more! Thanks for using that touch of humor both to make your points and to help us remember them! Sharing! 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  6. What a great post, Craig! I love that you made Suspense and Tension sisters. 🙂 Great analogy. And no story is complete without the two of them. Ramping up the tension only adds to the power of the suspense! Thank you for this awesome post and examples!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. You put this so well, Craig. When I apply this to all my favourite books, I can see the importance of tension in them – from Terry Tyler to Thomas Hardy’s novels. Thanks.

    Liked by 4 people

  8. I prefer tension to suspense. (Maybe I just outed myself as the other sister with no Instagram followers.) Suspense is flashy, but tension is where the uncomfortable parts are, and that’s why I read the books and watch the movies. (What’s that quote about all flash and no substance? That’s not entirely fair. Suspense has an important role, too. But I do prefer tension.) Loved this post, Craig.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Very clever post, Craig! I’m a big fan of tension. I just finished reading a book loaded with it. Several scenes where it became a key player are still revolving in my mind.
    Loved the way you presented this—fun and entertaining, too!

    Liked by 3 people

  10. I like how you set up the analogy, and it’s a great reminder of tension. Suspense is tempting to end a chapter with a cliffhanger: “Suddenly, amid the calm lake, their rowboat started to tilt precariously, as though shoved by underwater hands…” And that can cause readers to rush to the next chapter. But I believe the tension of throwing obstacles before a character can test the resilience of the character and hopefully cause readers to root for them more.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Pingback: The other sister — Story Empire – yazım'yazgısı (typography)

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