Write Better, Right Now #23

Using Microtension in Your Writing

Write Better, Right Now is a weekly post helping writers understand deeper writing strategies to take their stories to the next level. For writers looking for free creative writing workshops, check out Workshops for Writers!

Write Better, Right Now’s topics for July:


This month we’ll be going over tension and how to use it in our stories. This week is dedicated to looking at how we can build microtension into our writing. Microtension, simply put, is tension on the micro level. It is the small things that cause tension and conflict in our readers and characters. It encompasses the words you use, the syntax techniques you employ, and the beat-by-beat forward move of the story that keeps the reader wondering what will happen next.

Writers use microtension to add depth to their writing and stories. Without microtension, there wouldn’t be those minuet changes in tension and atmosphere that happen throughout a great story. Microtension also adds texture to our writing when we use it on the sentence and line level. Using microtension, we can hold our readers in a constant state of surprise and suspense.

Let’s dive into it more below!


Techniques

Microtension is my favorite way of building tension into a story. Instead of relying on the big picture ‘ideas’ or movements of the story, microtension focuses on using the small bricks of storytelling to create a sense of tension in our stories and readers. Microtension relies heavily on what words we choose and how we construct our sentences and paragraphs.

But you can also use microtension by adding a small conflict or contradictory moment to a scene or beat. For me, the meat of microtension rests on the writer’s ability to know what elements of conflict and tension are at play at any given moment in their story.

Internal conflict is another way of using microtension if you keep it small enough. Sometimes a character’s internal struggles can take up the whole plot if you’re not careful. With microtension, the writer would target in on the character’s internal state during a specific scene and how it may conflict with the actions or responses taking place in the scene.

Often when writers use internal conflict as a driving force behind their microtension, they utilize internal dialogue. Show the reader how your character talks to themselves when no one is listening. By doing this, you’re not only developing character but twisting the dial-up on tension. A character arguing with themselves while trying to put on a happy show is a moment rife with turmoil.

External dialogue can also be used to enhance the microtension in your story. Writers like to use misinterpretation, faulty translation, or even unheard statements to create microtension in their story. Consider in a story when two characters speak different languages or even have different accents or regional sayings. It causes that small amount of uncomfortability or anticipation as we wonder what will happen, what will get lost in translation.

Another favorite technique to use to increase the microtension is subtext. Subtext is the whisper beneath the word. It is the thing that is being said beneath what is actually said. You can use subtext in dialogue or even in your exposition. Subtext acts as microtension because it makes it clear to the reader there is more going on beneath the surface.


Exercise

This is an exercise I’ve found helpful from John Gardener. Write a descriptive scene from the perspective of someone looking out at a lake after they just did something horrific, but don’t mention the horrific act.

Convey their emotion, the horror, and the setting filtered through the character’s perspective, using words, sentence arrangements, and figurative speech to showcase something being wrong.


Resources

  1. Add Microtension to Your Scenes
  2. The Secret Ingredient: Microtension
  3. Microtension: How to Get it on the Page
  4. Microtension Exercises by Donal Maass

To check out past topics covered in the Write Better, Right Now series, check here!


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Catch you next week for our Write Better, Right Now post on using macrotension in your writing.

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