Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Six Ways to Write Strong Stories

by Sarah Sally Hamer @SarahSallyHamer

How does a great story grow? Through tension patterns. Tension isn’t the same as conflict: conflict is opposition between two or more things (usually two people in a story). Tension, on the other hand, raises questions in our stories which the reader will ask and the author must answer throughout the book. It’s completely based on the conflict we set up from the very beginning and, one step at a time, tension grows.

Here are six ways to build tension:
  • 1. Consider global. Set up your story so that tension is entrenched in every part. Pit your protagonist against every possible problem inherent in the plot and make her suffer! Add in patterns that lead the reader into multiple directions and then deliver a stupendous satisfying ending. All this comes from the original set up. 
  • 2. Consider micro. Each scene must have tension or it needs to be eliminated. Continue those tension patterns by creating small problems that are directly attached to the global problem. (Dorothy learned a valuable lesson when the Scarecrow taught her how to deal with the apple trees.) Teach your characters what they need to know in tiny increments – they’ll use that new knowledge to defeat the bad guy or to make the right decision at the end. And, the reader will cheer when our protagonist makes it happen. 
  • 3. Consider character. Make your characters real by giving them good traits and bad traits. Give them real goals, motivations and conflicts. Give them happy times and sad times. Make us believe in them. And we’ll follow them to hell and back.
  • 4. Consider pacing. Remember that too much tension is as bad as too little. Use the scene/sequel pattern to amp up the conflict but then back away. Put high levels of tension at the five major plot points and slow the action down occasionally to let everyone have a chance to take a deep breath. Use short sentences to increase tension; longer sentences to decrease tension.
  • 5. Consider dialogue. Allow your characters to talk in distinct voices based on their character traits and, sometimes, to hide what they feel behind deceptive words.
  • 6. Consider patterns. Give your reader rabbit trails to follow and red herrings to puzzle through. Anticipation = tension.

Finally, make sure that your characters stay on track. They MUST suffer, at least a little, so that they learn their lessons. And, the reader needs to be right there with them.

How do you put tension in your stories? 


Sarah (Sally) Hamer, BS, MLA, is a lover of books, a teacher of writers, and a believer in a good story. Most of all, she is eternally fascinated by people and how they 'tick'. She’s passionate about helping people tell their own stories, whether through fiction or through memoir. Writing in many genres - mystery, science fiction, fantasy, romance, medieval history, non-fiction – she has won awards at both local and national levels, including two Golden Heart finals.

A teacher of memoir, beginning and advanced creative fiction writing, and screenwriting at Louisiana State University in Shreveport for almost twenty years, she also teaches online for Margie Lawson at Sally is a free-lance editor and book coach at Touch Not the Cat Books, with many of her students and clients becoming successful, award-winning authors. 

You can find her at or


  1. Excellent writing advice.
    Although showing tension in each scene seems like a lot.
    Thanks, Sally.

  2. Enjoyed your helpful suggestions. Now I'll try to put them to good use! Thank you for sharing your blog this morning with all of us.