Narrative Tension for Beginners

Narrative tension. You can’t create a page-turner without it. If there is no tension, the story won’t be very intriguing. How many of us have always dreamed of reading a book about a man who just sits on a bench the entire story? My point exactly. We want to read something that will pull us in. Give us the story of a man on a bench waiting for his blind date when some aliens suddenly land on Earth. That definitely makes things more interesting. Adding tension to your story can be tricky when you’re first starting out as a writer because it’s all about finding balance. You don’t want to overload your story and make it so convoluted with tension that you confuse your readers, but at the same time you don’t want it so thinned out that your story reads more like a to-do list with different characters than an actual plotted out idea. 

So, how do you find that balance? Simple. I’ve come up with some tips for first time writers looking to build tension in their stories. It’s important to keep in mind that tension is something your story should have, no matter if it’s 2,000 words or 200,000 words. 

Keep Raising the Stakes:

Okay, so you’ve got an initial conflict that sets your story in motion, but then you need to layer on top of it the smaller complications that arise from that end goal. Let’s dissect a classic plot for a moment. Lord of the Rings. We have the overarching goal that sets the story in motion, Frodo has the ring of power and he has to get it out of the Shire. But he’s only supposed to get it as far as Rivendell, however, the council votes to take it to Mordor and throw it into the fire and Frodo volunteers. Boom! The stakes just got raised for Frodo. Then the mines of Moria happen and Gandalf is lost. Stakes are raised again for the whole fellowship. Then the group splits up when the Uruk-hai attack. Stakes raised even further. Merry and Pippin are taken hostage causing Legolas, Aragorn, and Gimli to go rescue them. More raised stakes – and that’s all just the first book!

But you can see where I’m going with this. One main conflict can have a ripple effect of other conflicts that arise, and your characters have to react to them. Each new minor conflict is you leveling up the tension for your characters, and making your readers want to keep reading because they don’t know how the character(s) will react. Your plot doesn’t even need to have a dragon and five armies to make it tense, every day contemporary stories can be just as intense. It all boils down to your main character wanting something, going after it, and setting in motion a bunch of minor hiccups that arise along the way, making it a constant choice between A or B. Love triangles are a very popular example of this. And a character’s desire doesn’t always have to be this grandiose desire to bring justice and equality to the world and tear down the corrupt system in order for your plot to have a purpose and drive conflict forward. Let us not forget that Shaun of the Dead’s events all started because someone wanted a Cornetto. 

Balance Tension with Moments of Calm:

I know I said you need to keep raising the stakes, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t give your character(s) a bit of break every once in a while. In fact, it’s encouraged. You need to give your readers a chance to digest what’s happening in between obstacles. If you have too many problems arising for your characters all at once, it becomes too much. Plus, these moments of “rest” are where you can build the stories in other ways like characterization or revealing bits of backstory. For example, if you have two bank robbers trying to make it down from Montana to the Mexican border, you can slow it down a bit by maybe giving them a flat tire on a remote stretch of highway somewhere like New Mexico or Arizona. You’d still have the tension of a flat tire when they’re so close to achieving their goal, but there is still a chance to have some calm moments. While the two bank robbers are waiting for Triple A to arrive, they can have an in-depth conversation. One can reveal that he’s trying to pay off a loan shark, while the other can admit he’s never changed a flat tire before. Either way, that slow moment on the highway can be a chance to work on backstory and characterization. 

Don’t think that a story’s action needs to be all rise all the time in order to create tension. You can get the same effect from a few falls. Tension works best when you have a rise and a fall. Another great idea for tension is these false senses of security. When your character thinks they’ve accomplished their task and they’re home free, that is a fine time to reveal that there’s still a little ways to go. Again, drawing back to Lord of the Rings, Frodo gets the ring to Rivendell. Everything seems chill. Those scenes are very calm for Frodo who thinks he’s soon going home. But then the council happens. The “oh my goodness” moment when Frodo offers to carry the ring to Mordor wouldn’t be so powerful if you didn’t have those calming moments before. While Frodo is in his false sense of security you’re able to digest all that he just went through to get to Rivendell. You feel for him. Which brings me to my next point…

Make Your Reader Emotional:

You can create the most intense plot with the perfect rise and fall pacing, but it won’t mean anything if your reader isn’t emotionally invested in what your character is experiencing. I will admit that a good portion of making your reader like your character, is to create a likeable character (I wrote a blog post on that if you want to read it). But another way to get your readers to like your character is using the plot. Even if your main plot of your book is something big like dismantling the ruling system, it’s a good idea to start small in terms of your character’s desire.

One example of this The Hunger Games. Across the three novels Katniss ends up creating a revolution and bringing down the corrupt government. She’s hailed as a hero. But that wasn’t her initial goal. Her initial goal was quite simple and quite relatable: She wanted to protect her sister. Even if we don’t have siblings, we all have at least one person we’d be willing to volunteer for if we ever found ourselves in a similar situation. Therefore, as readers we are more willing to emotionally invest in a character that wants to protect her loved one from death, rather than a character who right off the bat is ready to take down the government. While something small, like a character wanting to return a library book before the library closes or getting a the last bag of jelly donuts for their sick family member can be what is needed to set a bigger plot in motion, it can also serve to make a character relatable to the reader. We’ve all needed to get somewhere before it closes just like we’ve all rushed to the end of the aisle to pick up the last something because it’s for someone we care about, and it’s these small, universal actions that readers relate to that help them become emotionally invested in your character’s conflict. 

Bring the Tension from Various Points:

When we think of tension between characters we tend to think of heroes and villains. And yes, the tension between your hero and your villain is important. But that doesn’t mean that we can overlook the side characters. Some of these side characters can actually help to create tension for your main characters. In fact, some side characters can be integral to subplots that create tension in the story. Never under-estimate the power of secondary conflict. For example, Batman. You have the main conflict of a superhero trying to clean up Gotham’s streets, but at the same, you also have the tension from his personal life as Bruce Wayne to factor in as well. Of course, while you want to bring in tension from all angles, you also don’t want to overcomplicate your plot either. It’s a fine balance.

Choosing a Title

In my recent social media adventures of IG and the Twitterverse, I’ve seen the recurring question:

 How do I title my WIP? 

Today, I’m going to walk you through how I title my works-in-progress!

While I admit I’m primarily a young adult or new adult fantasy author, I promise this technique will work across a variety of works, encompassing all target audiences and genres.

  1. Make a list of:
    • Major Character(s)
      • Key Character Traits (~3 each)
        • Species or Races
        • Animals
    • Major Point(s) of Conflict
      • Key Themes (~3 each)
    • Major Items or Places
      • Artifacts 
      • Locations
    • Overall Mood / Atmosphere
      • Emotions (~3 each)
  2. Decide on your top 3-5 from the above list.
  3. Explore definitions, synonyms and like terms for the choice words. Utilize your favorite search engine for quotations or turns of phrase utilizing these words. Play with them, mix & match, combine them at your leisure. Have fun!
  4. Begin to narrow your list. (This is where your possible titles will form.)

Allow me to demonstrate!

  • Major Character(s):
    • Aurelia, the purple dragon shifter
    • Seru, the electrifying saint beast
    • Thalasia*, the blue siren
  • Major Point(s) of Conflict
    • The Great War (prior to the book)
    • The Magical Barrier Collapse
    • The Guiler Invasion
  • Major Items
    • Prismatic crystals (Violet & Purple)
    • Saint Beast’s enchanted collar
    • The Golden Lyre (siren charm)
    • The Golden Drake (dragon coin)
  • Major Places
    • The white sand beach (the site of the MC’s first encounter)
    • The bridge (point where Thalasia and guilers cross to Prisma Isle)
    • The central market (place of gathering for all species on land)
  • Overall Mood / Atmosphere
    • Rebellion
    • Overcoming Differences
    • Divergence
    • Friendship

Even my initial version–which may sound a tad over simplified–gives us more than enough to work with. I’ve highlighted my choices above. Feel free to circle the ones you like and cross out the ones you don’t particularly care for or get good vibes from. There will be plenty of options, so don’t stress. 

Upon analyzing the list, I’ve narrowed it down to a few choices I thought really encompassed the story as a whole. Now, I’m going to do a spot of research using a dictionary, thesaurus, and my preferred search engine. 

I’ll note down a few relevant examples of what I compiled below for ease of viewing.

  • Prismatic crystals
    • Colorful
    • Amethyst
      • A powerful and protective stone
      • Prevents overindulgence 
  • White sand beach
    • Ocean
      • Tides
  • Rebellion
    • Uprising
    • Revolution
  • Friendship
    • Unity
    • Togetherness

Again, my list might seem overly simplistic, but I’m well versed in this process, so don’t feel overwhelmed or underwhelmed if your list is a touch longer or shorter. Work with what you have!

Now, you play with the words and their meanings until you find an option, or a few, that you think suit your WIP. This go ‘round, my title jumped out at me as I was creating the list. That may or may not happen for you right away. Don’t get discouraged. You will find your title. Just be patient and continue working.

Decision time!

Once you have a handful of viable options, choose the one that you think works best and gives your story the proper spotlight in which to shine. 

Rebel Tides

As you can see, I chose the title Rebel Tides. I, of course, ran this and a few other options past my co-author, Krys Fenner, since we wrote this new adult fantasy novel together. I recommend you do the same with your titles, whether you have co-authors or just a few trusted writer pals. Obtaining a second or third opinion always helps. (Depending on their knowledge and familiarity of your WIP, it may also be wise to include a detailed summary of your story.) 

Easy, right? Or, at least easier than you initially thought.

This tried and true method of creating a title has worked for me for many years. It’s a method I turn to time and time again. I sincerely hope it helps you select your next title for your work-in-progress.

If it does, please, feel free to reach out and tell us about it! I love to hear from my fellow authors within the Writing Community. 

A few closing explanations on why I chose Rebel Tides as the title of my new adult fantasy novel. 

The initial story was intended to be a young adult novel, detailing the friendship formed between two rebellious heroines: a dragon shifter, Aurelia (my character) and Thalasia (Krys’ character), a siren. The two were set to adventure to a magical academy and discover themselves together in the process, making their share of mischief as they went.

Long story short, the collaboration changed hands–and publishers–before their story could be completed. 

In the revived and revamped form, their story shifted from a preteen coming-of-age journey to an action-packed struggle of survival, where the disappearance of a magical barrier cues a series of destructive incidents across the island a majority of the characters call home. Thalasia is initially blamed by my protagonist, Aurelia, who finds herself at odds with the newcomer. My secondary character, the saint beast, Seru decided to cozy up to Thalasia, even if it meant betraying his species in the process. 

Krys and I were beside ourselves at these dramatic and sudden changes demanded by our cast. But, we decided to roll with it and see where it went. In the end, Rebel Tides still fit our story–if for entirely different reasons. 

Our characters first encounter one another by the beach. As time progresses, it becomes evident they must rebel against the societal norms of Prisma Isle and their species to come together in order to save the island from guiler invaders. You might say, they need to create a shift or change the tides from the way things have always been toward a new way. In Thalasia’s and Seru’s case, they even seek to challenge and change fate itself. 


I appreciate you taking the time to read my first-ever blog post for Dragon Soul Press. I hope you enjoyed reading and partaking in the fun exercise provided. I’ll see you next time.

~Livi Luciana (a.k.a. the_rainbow_crow)

Writing 10k in One Day

How many of us have participated in writing challenges like NaNoWriMo or its April and July offshoots of Camp NaNoWriMo? Chances are we’ve done it at least once, maybe twice. But how many of us have been successful at it? We all want to think of ourselves as writers who can pump out a huge word count like it’s nothing. But the reality is many of us really struggle to write even a fifteen-hundred words in one session. 

I recently decided to partake in the July Camp NaNoWriMo. And in my annual fashion, within a week I was well behind my word count goals. It’s not that I didn’t do any writing, it’s just that I got distracted. I started writing everything that wasn’t the manuscript that I was meant to work on. So, what do you do when you’re 10k behind your goal? You do your best to catch up in the span of a weekend. 

But is it possible to pump out 10k in one day? Yes, it is. It just takes a lot of patience, persistence, and a looming deadline that scares the crap out of you. For me, that looming deadline was getting this manuscript finally finished and sent off to a professional editor on the first of August. And that is what got me to write 10k words in one day. 

And here are some useful tips and tricks that I used in order to get it done: 

Know What You’re Writing

This is very important because if you have a direction for your story then the 10k will flow slightly easier. That is why if you’re doing a writing challenge, I highly recommend dedicating the entire month ahead of time to plotting out your story and creating a scene by scene break down. That way when you start tackling your word goal you can write huge chunks of story on a daily basis by just reviewing your notes. And if you need to do a catch up on the weekend, it’s much easier to get through 10k if you’ve got a fully plotted out story than if you’re just writing by the seam of your pants. 

Make A Plan

This isn’t just a plan for your writing, but for your day as well. With plenty of dedication, we can manage 10k in a day. But there is no way that can be done in an hour or two. 10k is 20 pages single spaced, or 40 double spaced. Even the fastest writers can’t manage that in a short span of time – we’ve all tried in college. What you need is a whole day. Clear the schedule, wake up early, and get ready to dedicate a good 8 hours to getting 10k done. 

Take Breaks

Even though you’re planning to be writing for roughly 8 hours in order to hit 10k in one day, that doesn’t mean you can’t, or shouldn’t, take breaks. Breaks are good. Breaks give your mind a chance to reboot for a little bit. I personally like to challenge myself to hour long sprints where I write 1,500 words in an hour, then I reward myself with a little break. During that break I’ll either get up and make a cup of tea or coffee and get back to the writing for another hour (if I happen to find myself on a creative roll), or I’ll go for a walk (if I’m feeling like I’m hitting a wall with my writing). But just be sure that you don’t do anything too strenuous or time consuming during your break that will then end up distracting you. Speaking of which…

Beware Distractions

You know how you can go the whole week not doing the laundry, but then sit down to write and suddenly the laundry needs to be done, the dishes need cleaning, the oven can use a scrub, and the bathtub should really be bleached. Don’t let yourself get distracted. If you’re like me and you can get distracted by household chores either arrange to do your writing in a different location or address the potential distractions ahead of time. If you can do housework the day before writing, do it. If you can go to a local coffee shop or if the weather is nice, write outside in a park or the beach or even your own backyard. If you have kids, arrange a playdate. If you browse the internet too much, disable your wifi and hide your phone. The less distractions there are, the easier it will be to get those 10k words done in one day. 

Keep Pushing Forward

Even if you don’t hit 10k in one day, if you are able to double what you’d normally write in a day then be proud of yourself – you’ve already done well. If you don’t get to 10k in the first try, just keep at it. It took me several consecutive Saturdays before I managed to hit a full 10k in one day. You’ll get there, just keep going. 

Finding Your Community

Whether you are a first-time writer just starting out, or a successfully published author with several works under your belt, there is one thing that ever single writer needs: a writing community. Writing can be a very lonely pursuit. However, it’s a journey that we can’t go on alone. We need friends to lean on when we write, ones that understand the complexities of trying to realize the story in your head onto paper. But how do we find our writing community?

Well, if you haven’t already, here are some tips to getting started in your search of a writing circle where you can continue to grow as a writer:

1. Classes: Perhaps one of the best places to find other writers is in a writing class. Specialist writing schools, librarians, and community schools are all great places to start your search for some writing buddies. Plus, there is the added bonus that taking a class or seminar on writing will only help you enhance your writing skills. You can also check out your local bookshop to see if they have any writing-themed events on the horizon as well. 

2. Online writing forums: Perhaps one of the best options for those of us who are either shy or busy, going online can yield some great results. Personally, the NaNoWriMo forums are one of my favorite online forums to interact with other writers. Additionally, Facebook has plenty of writing groups, many of which are specifically dedicated to different genres or topics. All you need to do is go search for your niche. Twitter is another online plethora of everything writing, and there are plenty of wonderful supportive writers that are part of the writing community.

3. Book clubs: Plenty of writers are also avid readers, so it would make sense that if you were to walk into a book club, you’d find at last one other writer amongst the crowd, so joining a book club might be the gateway into finding and forming your own critique group. Even if you happen to be the only writer in the book club, reading and discussing analysis of different books helps to flex your mental muscles – something that can only benefit your own work. 

Either way, don’t despair. Your people are out there and you will find them!

Creating a Soothing Writing Space

With the current trending news climate, many of us may be experiencing a little more time at home than normal. For writers, this is a golden opportunity to get through all the projects that we’ve started and been meaning to finish. Personally, I’m plotting out my Camp NaNoWriMo while also planning to finish two short stories and make some changes to an old manuscript that was submitted as my master’s thesis.

However, our quest for solitude might not be as easy as we think. A global pandemic might mean that we’re not alone in our own space. Children might be sent home from school, spouses may be working from home, a whole 20-pack stack of toilet paper may have moved into our office space, Netflix’s delightful programming might seem even more delightful – there’s plenty of possible distractions.

So, what can we do about these distractions in order to get the most out of Armageddon? Well, through trial and error I’ve come up with a couple ideas to create a calming writing area to get stuff done.

1) Turn Off or Limit Social Media

Social media is a great platform to market yourself as an author and promote your books, but it’s also a black hole of panic – especially when it comes to world affairs. While yes, the memes coming out of the thing are hilarious, there is also a lot of misplaced panic and misinformation being spread as well. Therefore, for your own mental health and focus, it’s a good idea to take a step back. Not worrying about the latest trending hashtag helps you get into a writing frame of mind: calm. In addition, it also helps you avoid that late night social media spiral that keeps you up and leaves you unrested and irritable the next day.

2) Take a Walk

Before you sit down to write, it doesn’t hurt to get out of the house for a few minutes and take a walk around the block – especially if you’re feeling a little cabin feverish. As a very cliché coffee shop writer, I’ve been finding myself having a difficult time not going to my favorite coffee shop with my laptop or a notebook to write. So, I’ve been doing my best to recreate the coffee shop setting at home. However, I’m not going to lie, the cabin fever has gotten to me a bit. That is why I’ve found that going on a short jaunt around the park across the street kind of helps to get those jitters out. Fresh air definitely helps. If you have a garden you don’t even need to go out for a walk you can just enjoy the outdoors from the comfort of your backyard. It will help get you into a relaxed frame of mind where you can think about writing.

3) Recreate a Chill Space

Like I said in my previous point, I’m a writing cliché, I love to write in coffee shops come the weekend. However, since recent global events have left my part of the world on lockdown, I need to find alternative ways. So, in my quest to carve out a place of my own to write, I decided that since I couldn’t go to my coffee shop, I’d bring the coffee shop to me. That meant that I cleared a little nook at the dining room table where I lit a rose-scented candle, played a little café jazz music on a playlist, and brewed myself a cup of coffee. In these uncertain times, it’s basically all about the little joys in life. So, carving out a portion of paradise for yourself is just what you need in order to keep writing during this time. Whether it’s your living room couch, bedroom, kitchen counter, or elsewhere, pick a place in your home where you can set up a nice little nook for yourself. It doesn’t necessarily have to be exactly like mine, but it should make you feel good and safe. So, that could entail putting yourself a vase of fresh flowers, setting out some yummy writing snacks, playing your favorite music, wrapping up in your coziest blanket – whatever relaxes you and inspires you to write.

Hope you’re all keeping well and staying safe! Happy writing!