Q&A: Increasing the Emotion in Your Stories
You may have noticed the message at the bottom of my previous article, inviting you to submit any story questions you’d like me to answer. These can include specific problems you’re encountering in finding or developing your own stories – actually my favorite kind of question, because these prove to be more useful to you personally, and tend to be far more helpful than those where I’m responding to a hypothetical issue you think you might encounter somewhere down the road.
I really appreciate those of you who have already responded to my request. Here, in fact, is a question that applies whether you’re a writer, speaker or entrepreneur. I hope it will encourage you to send in your own by clicking the ORANGE “ASK MICHAEL A QUESTION” button on the right sidebar.
QUESTION: How do I create tension in my story without resorting to action?
ANSWER: Creating tension in your story is an outstanding way to increase – and extend – the emotional involvement of your readers and audiences. But tension is actually the antithesis of action.
ACTION involves the things any character does to achieve their goal and overcome the obstacles standing in the way of accomplishing what they desire. The moments when your hero faces the greatest amount of conflict are usually the most emotional scenes in your story.
But TENSION is all about creating anticipation. When we anticipate the obstacles that we think your hero will have to face, and the rewards or consequences your hero will experience as a result, the tension is the unresolved tug-of-war between what we want and what we dread. We’re emotionally engrossed in your story because we don’t yet know if the character will succeed or fail.
In a well written thriller or horror film, the audience anticipates violence, and the tension takes the form of suspense. In a love story or romantic comedy, the anticipation of the hero and love interest finally kissing or making love creates sexual tension.
In either case, the resolution of the conflict will release the tension, as the character faces the killer or monster or the couple finally connects. And both the buildup and the payoff will heighten the emotional experience.
If you’re using storytelling to grow your business or move your prospects to action, add to the tension and emotion by revealing the obstacles you or your client had to face. But don’t give away what the outcome was until later in the story.
So if it’s a story about how you had to overcome the possibility of bankruptcy, don’t begin by saying, “Let me tell you how I was able to save my company.”
Instead, open with, “The biggest crisis I ever faced was when I discovered my company was about to go bankrupt.”
Now as you relate what you did in the face of this challenge, we stay deeply involved in your story because you haven’t told us if you succeeded or failed. That tension sustains the conflict and emotion far longer than if you had given away the ending.
Thank you so much for sharing. I have found it extremely helpful !
Dear Michael (and all), I realised that I have a habit of seeing hidden injustice metered out to huge unsung heroes.. I’m not sure if I seek them out or come across them inadvertently but there have been two core people and I am irrevocably embroiled telling the stories of both indeed of many equally heroic unsung women who held their lives throughout.
From being asked to submit an outline about a story I told of courage, to being unceremoniously dropped by covid panic, writing part of the script anyway, to realising if one is ever to get the film made, one invariably has to become the producer, .I wrestle with my own motivation and often ask myself why not take the path of least resistance.? Instead focusing on what worked before ie the idea of telling what you know of your own life. It seems a much more attractive prospect. But alas I seem “…..to have a stone in my shoe”.
So I keep researching, writing then stopping with the encroaching overwhelm of information and sense of obligation to the truth as the fear of never getting to the end point increases. Then back too calm and the challenge of telling the myriad stories inherent in the colour of an exceptional life restarts. All while trying to find ways to express the authentic everyday struggles of the central character as they create a new musical form and fight against a fascist Junta. To have faith in the idea of being led by character/s rather than events or action/story is my aim but also my insecurity, while trying humanise a revolutionary real life hero that is loved as often as he is/was reviled.
It is a project that absolutely requires mentorship and team effort ..Especially on script. Despite knowing this, one has to produce a script alone anyway..One that you know can only ever be the first draft but one that still has to hit hard from the first page… After some years of working with Mikis Theodorakis and the the secrets of the hidden wars of Greece Cyprus Spain etc..I feel frequently plagued with the obligation to get it right ..To tell the story that demonstrates triumph over the wrongs of violent suppression and still tells of a life as it was actually lived. One could of course tell the story simply of one event in this mans life(Mikis Theodorakis) and make whole movie eg from his final imprisonment.. To start there? Then what to do with the rest. I know the errors of past efforts to tell whole stories of endless events eg the double movie Che (Guevara).
So not a single question here but more a sharing of what I have faith that through creative community will emerge. I writein into the ether, sitting in a friends home in Florida having just got myself here from London (in an obsessive fit of peak) .. To feel the vibe perhaps of creative Greeks in America. To escape the creative inertia of the UK and Europe. (my father died in November and left me 2k so WTH! rent or flight?).
This man was a child of Hollywood, the elite of which gathered in droves to get him released and go on and create a democratic Greece..Despite Truman Churchill and the greatest betrayal by the Allied forces , it was the American creative community led by Arthur Miller , John Barry and Harry Belafonte that got him out…Should the story start there? With wings and prayers
Mr. Hauge. I will answer to your help and assistance.
I am writing a coming of age science fiction. Would be great if I could make you read it. The synopsis of it as of now.
I have more of a tech question. I have been sick and have stroke type symptoms and I’m looking for software
that will let me speak rather than type my screenplays. can you suggest any?