Writing Tips — Keeping the Tension

Giulietta M Spudich
2 min readOct 4, 2023

We often talk about how to keep the tension going in my young writers’ workshop. When there are challenges to face, or impending doom, it seems clear how to raise tension in the story. However, what about scenes where things go well?

The reconciliation by James Gillray

Throughout the story, the main character will occasionally achieve a goal. They might be reunited with someone, or solve part of a mystery. Maybe they go to a party. How can we write these scenes without dropping the tension?

We discussed ways. They seemed to fall into two categories.

  • The character wins something, and just afterwards, a difficulty is revealed. (The example that came up was, after Harry Potter wins the Goblet of Fire, he is transported to a cemetery.)
  • The win and the loss is intertwined, for example there is an oppression around the win, or an unsolved mystery despite the win.

Young writers came up with scenes that reflected a ‘tense win’!

Mika described a friendship between two girls, planning what to wear for a ball. An ongoing tension is that one of the girls appears to be a ghost, reaching out from the past. The tension mounts when she pulls out her new dress, and her living friend recognises it as the dress from the last portrait of the girl, made just before she went missing. In this light-hearted scene, is the girl choosing the dress she’ll die in?

Mine brought a scene to life with a deadly, oppressive queen who assigns a quest to two knights who have never met. The knights realise they are long lost sisters, reunited. But they cannot embrace or even smile at each other, as the queen is watching and would split them apart if she knew.

Anousha shared a heartfelt tale of a boy rescuing a princess. He successfully finds her, but his joy is quenched by her disheveled appearance. The pain of what she went through comes clear.

Rachel brought us on the run through a Russian forest, as a countess searches for her sister. She faces the wild, wolves, and freezing cold. When she gets to the hut, she discovers her sister … but her sister doesn’t know they are the lost princessess of the Romanov family.

I found these scenes of joy and reunion more nail-biting than ever! I hope this post helps you keep the tension in your stories.



Giulietta M Spudich

I am a children’s author and young writers' workshop leader. Give me a young/teen fantasy novel and a cup of coffee. Magic. www.elementgirls.org