Setting the Pace – Increasing Dramatic Tension

I’ve been thinking recently about making the most of the dramatic moments in my stories. It’s easy to get carried away in the flurry of  writing, speeding from one action to the next, but before you know it the scene is over, and you’re left feeling dissatisfied. Below is an example of a ‘rushed’ moment. It’s at the point in my novel, Wolf Soul, where Maria is about to kill the wolf.

Bending down, Maria picked up the sabre. She turned, confused, towards the sounds of commotion. The wolf was at its victim’s throat, heedless of any danger. Blindly Maria thrust the blade towards the beast.

It does the job, but is over so quick the reader might almost miss it.

I read somewhere (and I wish I could remember where, but alas I can’t) that the way to extend dramatic tension in a scene is to use action, description, dialogue, and thoughts. The example above goes {action}{action}{description}{action}. It’s interesting to see the difference adding dialogue, thought and a bit more description makes:

The world slowed. Only a heartbeat remained to prevent his father’s death. {thought}

Framed in the doorway Slav saw Maria. Her foot touched the fallen blade. {description}

“Slay the wolf,” the captain shouted at her, his arm askew. {dialogue}

Bending down, Maria picked up the sabre. It looked stiff and awkward in her hands. She turned, confused, towards the sounds of commotion. {action}{description}{action}

“Wolf?” {dialogue}

The creature was at its victim’s throat, heedless of any danger. The blood it wanted was before it. Slav struggled to hold it at bay. He had to save his father. He had to save himself. {thought}

“Quick, girl, before it kills the blacksmith,” the captain ordered. {dialogue}

Blindly Maria thrust the blade towards the beast. {action}

An additional benefit of adding thought as well as dialogue, is that the main character, Slav, is included more in the dramatic tension, as are the Captain and Slav’s father.

If you’ve found this post helpful I’d love to hear from you, or you might like to use the Share buttons below to tell others about it.

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10 thoughts on “Setting the Pace – Increasing Dramatic Tension

  1. P.A.Lewis Brown says:

    I am going to put this into practice. I have been working on a tense, dramatic scene. This could help. Many thanls P.A.

  2. O.W says:

    Thanks for breaking it down. I never thought of breaking it down in those terms. I really like it. Have you been able to recall where you learned about that concept : action, description, dialogue and thought?

    • No, my memory has failed me. I read it many years ago and keep hoping to come across it again as I re-read my ‘how to write’ books collection, but no luck so far. Am very grateful for it though.

  3. Another great post. Have it bookmarked. THANKS!

  4. […] Setting the Pace: Increasing Dramatic Tension […]

  5. […] Setting the Pace: Increasing Dramatic Tension (lorrieporter.wordpress.com) […]

  6. Action, desc, dialogue, thoughts. Sounds so basic but I obv wasn’t doing it as my scene’s totally different now and pacing really well. Thank you!

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