10 Ideas for Tension Filled Writing

It was 10:30 at night. Not just any night, but the night before school started. Not just any night-before-school, but my first day of my first year back teaching high school full-time after a decade spent home being a full-time mother to my four precious blessings.

StressedOutWomanI was supposed to be in bed, but instead, I was on the front porch, armed with Rid spray, Rid gel, Rid comb and Rid shampoo angrily picking nits out of my second-born’s hair. She was sobbing. I was sobbing, too. Tears ran down my face making my nose itch. Even my kneecaps (recently shaved, I might add) itched at the mere thought of those hideous creatures.

Arriving home late from a city council meeting, my police chief husband discovered us thusly sobbing, picking and spraying. Without saying a word, he went inside, changed and took over the flashlight holding as we shampooed, checked and double checked until the wee hours of the morning. I flopped into bed exhausted and angry. Why hadn’t my daughter’s friend noticed this illegal immigration into her hair while on a mission trip sooner? Why had my daughter had a sleepover two nights prior, thus accidentally inviting them into our home? How could any of this work out for the best? Surely I would never last an entire school day on four hours of sleep!

That same week, both bathrooms sprung leaks causing a waterfall in my office and falling drywall in the laundry room. I attended Open House with my skirt caught in the back of my belt. My husband kept later-than-usual hours with murder suspects, stabbing suspects and hit-and-run accidents. Wasps made their home under our porch and the upstairs air-conditioning went out. I was hot, tired, cranky and spent my days in fearful waiting for the next plague to strike.

What does this have to do with writing? Nothing. And everything. For it gave me ideas for those times when the ill-timed equivalent of lice arrive on your scene!

1. Remember that the best plots involve conflict, action and drama. If everything in life went according to plan, it would make a boring book. Nobody would read past page two.

2. When life falls apart around you it often provides a forced clarity. Priorities become real. We are reminded that God is as necessary as breath. We invite Him into our lives and into our writing.

3. Every irritating situation has its flip side. Look for the humor and use it to make an unusual tweak in a character or an unique twist in your story line.

4. Listen to real life dialogue and take notes in your head (as if you’re not doing this already!) Sometimes what is being said in response makes a great jumping point for dialogue in your novel or a superb illustration in your non-fiction work.

5. Most likely, you didn’t expire from the stress of these multiple irritations, and your character won’t either. Rather, they can grow, change and develop. It can be a point of humor or a highlight of your character’s movement toward your desired ending.

6. What scriptures, friends, or soothing rituals helped you to cope? Might your characters borrow some of them for their problem pages?

7. Taking a walk or a laughter break can help alleviate stress. Send your character on an imaginary walk, or take note cards outside with you on a real walk and see what happens. Let your characters talk to you about what’s going on in their lives. What tickles your characters’ funny bones?

8. Was there a nemesis involved in your frustrating situation? Maybe this can be a starting point for a quirky or irritating companion to your main character. What did people say about your week/day of crisis that got on your last nerve? Serve it up on the page and make it fit your story.

9. A clump of events or disaster in your character’s life can likewise point him or her to a God who is very real and present. Recall the touch points in your frustrations that made you reach out to Him almost in spite of your determination to be angry or bitter.

10. If you’re stuck in a louse-y situation just now, either in your personal life or in your life between the pages– remember, just as chapters end, this too shall pass. If you’ll likely laugh about it later, try to laugh now. Almost everything, sooner or later, makes its way into the writing craft!