Building Up Your Story – Tension is Everything Pt. 2

Let me start off by saying this: If you are in the murky depths of about 20,000 words or so on your novel and are kind of lost between the middle and the end, then this post is for YOU. If you missed Part 1 on this subject, no worries! You can find it here! Start there and then come back and rejoin us here on Part 2.


Okay, you back? Here we go!

So I am assuming that you wrote out all the things that need to BUILD UP in your novel to create tension, show the changes in characters, and, of course, move the story along. Now what you need to do is take each one of those items that needs “build up” and you need to plot out from start to finish how you intend to do it. Here is a simple one of my examples.


Now how am I going to make sure that comes through? I plot out the pieces in the story that should make this evident.

-Dad tells kids about a co-worker getting a promotion over him when it should clearly have been his – doesn’t act too worried

-Max hurts himself with an arrow and Dad doesn’t take them away from him

-When her mother finally comes back into town and it looks like he is going to just let her leave again, Candace blows up at her dad for never acting on what he wants

-Candace finds out that Dad went to Utah to retrieve their mother but didn’t tell them because their mom was dead set on not coming back with him

You will see the LAST item on the list kind of changes her perception of things …that maybe her father really is a man of action but he is quiet about it. Or when he doesn’t act he is also making a conscious choice too.  So in a way, these little “build up” items kind of layout their own little mini climaxes and resolutions as well. I think it makes for a much more intricate and interwoven story.

I did this for each one, writing them all on a Word document. Then I printed out the word document and cut them all out in little strips so each “moment” was its own separate thing. Now, my cats had a blast with these fluttery little things so, in the future, I may consider writing each item out on an index card instead. But for now, here is what I had.


Each of those little “bunches” is a BUILD UP section where I listed out the scenes or moments that helped to ….you know….Build it up! I then started to piece together how I could best fit in these scenes so they completed the book for me. The easiest way to do this is to consider two things.

First, some of these scenes or moments I already had floating around in my head along with an idea of where there are going to go in terms of the story. Place those down first. (And leave a lot of room in between the slips of paper…you never know how you are going to move things around as you go).

Then, consider the fact that your list of scenes for each section should pretty much stay in order …meaning, all of your “first items” under each BUILD UP section should be near the beginning of the story. If you really have no clue where to start, just start taking the first scene of every item and place it first, and then second scene second, and so on. That will at least give you a rough idea of the story line and you can adjust as you go. Here is what my final layout of scenes looked like!


Another important thing to note is you should also make a slip that says CLIMAX. You should put all of your final resolutions and reflections post-climax. I also am splitting my story into 2 parts so I made a slip for PART 2 in my layout. That also helped me to place things before and after the PART 2 line when organizing my scenes.


And that is about it! I use Scrivener to help me organize my novel into chapters. It is a GREAT tool for a writer.  I love the fact that I can skip around so easily to write scenes in the beginning and then the ending and then the middle and it all still stays nice and neatly organized. (More on Scrivener in my next post.)

I took my new “outline” and then wrote it out AGAIN and IN ORDER in a new Word Document. Then I copied and pasted the scenes into the “open pockets” of my novel where I was missing this filler detail. I KNEW I needed it but couldn’t easily figure out how to fit everything in to get the points across that I was aiming for. Easy peasy now!

Anyone else have outlining methods that they use and want to share? I find it hard to really do a full outline at the beginning of the story because I feel like I don’t know my characters well enough. After about 20,000 words with them, they are more real in my mind and so I can see the points that need to be BUILT UP in order to let their true characters and motivations shine.

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