T – Tension

My A to Z Challenge theme is teaching you how not to write a book, or a short story, or any piece of creative writing whatsoever. For more information, including links to previous chapters and lessons, please refer to this post. Now buckle in and proceed with…



Billionaire Highlander cowboy Hawk MacHardcastle is tired of living the jetset life of champagne, bucking broncos, kilts, fast cars, and burning bundles of cash for warmth. Desperate to find meaning in his life, he retires to his family’s isolated cabin in the wilds of New Jersey, on the shores of majestic Lake Latrine.

There, Hawk plans on self-reflection and pursuing the great love of his life—fishing. However, Hawk’s self-imposed loneliness comes to an end when he makes a most unusual companion and fishing buddy.

Dropsy Velvet was once a young woman living on the shores of Lake Latrine with her settler family. However, a curse turned her into a mermaid and now she lives, sad and alone, in the depths of the lake. She hasn’t had human contact for close to fifty years, thanks to everyone either being terrified of her or thinking they’re drunk when they see her—but Hawk may be the connection to the world she’s been craving. Charmed by her innocent face, sparkling wit, and huge bare breasts, Hawk decides to help her find a way to lift the curse, as she will lift his: the curse of ennui and affluenza. But time is running out, for something sinister wants to flush Latrine away forever.


Hawk gathered Dropsy up and was about to carry her back to the cabin, when the wicked old lady appeared on the beach. She cackled. Hawk gasped and dropped Dropsy on the sand, and grabbed his trusty bowie knife from his hip. He had to protect his precious love. He couldn’t allow her to be hurt.

Dropsy shrieked at the sight of the old woman. She lay at Hawk’s feet, wet and covered in sand now like a battered chicken fritter waiting to be deep fried. “You!” Dropsy cried. “I know you were the one who turned me into a mermaid all those years ago. Having my brain boiled brought all the memories to the surface. I was a young girl, living on the banks of this lake with my settler family. We came here to build a home and live in peace.”

The old woman smiled a wide, fang-filled smile. “Yes, my dear. And now, for my ultimate revenge. I’m tired of all the rich vacationers who come to this lake every summer and stink things up with their Burberry cologne and ruin the scenery by lying in their lawn chairs reading their iPads. I’m going to open a portal to Hell beneath the lake and suck it down, and you along with it, you hussy.”

Dropsy screamed in despair. “Hawk, stop her!”


Much like starting with too much action at the beginning of the story, creating tension doesn’t require vampire witches, screaming, and sucking lakes into the dark abyss. Overdoing it doesn’t create tension but the opposite, making things absurd. Like a lot of other writing elements, tension has to be handled with subtlety. A glance across a room or an overheard conversation can create tension. Your character knowing a secret, noticing a warning, things slowly going from bad to worse—all these things create tension without beating your reader over the head with it.

Tension should build slowly, and through the entirety of the story, until it’s like a balloon that’s been filled with so much air it’s about to pop. If you fill the balloon too fast it will pop ahead of schedule. Tension-building applies to any story, whether it’s a heart-pounding mystery/suspense or chick lit. Every story has something at stake, or at least, one would hope. How we get to the point where the game is either won or lost involves tension. Make your reader hold their breath, but in such a way they don’t even realize they’re doing it until the balloon bursts.

Author: Megan Morgan

Paranormal and contemporary romance author.

15 thoughts

  1. Looks like Hawk is going to have his hands full. LOL
    And I love the image of Dropsy “covered in sand now like a battered chicken fritter waiting to be deep fried”.


  2. I’d like to know how he can prevent the old woman from creating a portal to hell at the bottom of the lake. It sounds a bit beyond him, but then, we know he’s so completely awesome and capable that nothing could possibly be more than he can handle. 🙂


  3. LOL!
    Ooops, sorry. I mean, I’m sitting on the edge of my seat wondering: was this what was going to happen to Lake Latrine from the beginning and I didn’t realise it?

    You know? Creating tension is such a subtle thing I’m not even know I’d be able to explain how’s it done. But I think it had to do with the characters’ aspirations and the goal fo the story more than anything else. Is establishing what the characters want the most, and then creating a story that ‘might’ not give the characters what they’re pursuing.

    The Old Shelter – Jazz Age Jazz

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think that’s a great way to describe it. That’s definitely the best kind of tension–that which arises from the character’s wants and needs. And no, you didn’t miss anything, this was the first time it popped up. Such a well-written story, huh? 😀


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