Thursday, January 6, 2011


Tension in a story is a good thing. In a book, it keeps the reader turning the page. In a movie, it keeps the audience on the edge of their seat. Can their be too much tension in a story and how do you know if you have too much. What is too much tension for one reader is just enough for another reader.

Back when I was studying the craft of writing screenplays, I learned that if you put too much tension in a movie that the audience will laugh when you cross the line into too much tension. It's like the human brain can only handle so much jeopardy for the main characters. When it gets to be too much the audience laughs to ease the tension they feel. The trick is to get to just that line and not go over it.

But what about for novels? I think that you can have too much tension, but where that magic line is can not be easily determined. Everyone has their own personal threshold for tension and fear.

I've read a few thrillers lately that I ended up flipping to the end of the book to see how it ends because I couldn't stand not knowing anymore. Most of the time, I flip back to where I was and continue reading secure in the knowledge that it will all work out in the end. In thinking about those times when I've flipped to the end, in every case all signs of hope for the main character were gone. It looked as if there was no way that the main character was going to survive. The deck was too heavily stacked against them.

But that is me. There are some readers who want to be taken to that place of hopelessness and tension.

What do you think? Can a book have too much tension in it?

1 comment:

  1. I agree - there's a point at which tension becomes unbearable.

    I also imagine that's the reason for the funny one-liners and quips in movies - to get that laughter out.