Write Better, Right Now #24

Using Macro Tension in Your Stories

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’ve been going over tension and how to use it in our stories. This week is dedicated to looking at how we can build macrotension into our fictions. Macro tension is a fancier or more specific way of talking about the big picture tension techniques like foreshadowing, plot, character arcs, etc. We went over a few macro tension techniques in the post on how to build tension into your stories.

Writers use macro tension to keep the large-scale elements of their story driving conflict and suspense. But you can also use it for things outside inducing conflict. Macro tension can also be a way for you to tease the reader about aspects of your world and to develop character relationships. Thinking about macro tension while writing, plotting, and revising as a separate entity from your microtension can help you laser in on areas you can strengthen.

Let’s dive into it more below!


Techniques

The best way to think about macro tension is as an element that develops over time throughout your story. While microtension happens in the moment and small beats of your story, macro tension is that slow clock ticking and pushing your character forward. Even though we went over big picture tension techniques at the beginning of the month, let’s look at some ways we can use macro tension in our stories outside of those frequently used techniques.

Throughout your story, your character(s) are going to face struggles both big and small. Using macrotension, you can build off of each struggle. By doing this, you are actively upping the stakes and tension in the story, challenging your character to push themselves to their limits to make it through the story.

Give your characters difficult decisions and choices they have to make to move forward. You don’t have to have them make these choices—in fact, you could build a whole story about how your character doesn’t make choices and the ramifications of their inaction—but you should give them choices and have them even struggle with the moral dilemmas those choices bring up.

Whether you are writing a high-stakes crime novel with tons of conflict and suspense or a young adult novel about friendship, you can use macro tension to thread a line throughout your novel that keeps your readers hooked and wondering where the story will end. In books about friendship, often writers use miscommunication, an insult that damages pride, or some other issue to throw a wedge between the two friends.

Maybe you’re the type of writer who often hears that their story has no stakes even though they believe their stakes are clearly defined. No worries. I’ve been there. To use stakes in a way that effectively utilizes macro tension, you have to not only state the stakes but show them. Don’t just put up a Danger sign, but show your reader what happens if someone goes against it.

Depending on how long your story is, you can also use subplots to enhance the macro tension. Where I see a lot of authors fall off the track with subplots is having them be very disconnected from the main story. While some disconnection is refreshing, too much takes up precious word and page space. One of my favorite ways writers use subplots to really knock out the macro tension of the story is by having a subplot that seems absolutely disconnected, but that slowly begins to connect to the main plot until the two join in memorable and shocking ways.


Exercise

Write 4 separate stories of no more than 3,000 words that each focuses on using one of these 4 techniques:

  1. Complications
  2. Decisions
  3. Stakes
  4. Foreshadowing

Feel free to pull from whatever resources at your disposal, either from this site or any other. Learn these techniques enough to practice them within a story. If you end up completing these 4 stories, please let me know by dropping a comment below! I’d love to read your work.


Resources

  1. An Essential Element of Story
  2. 3 Techniques for Creating Tension
  3. Emotional Danger for Page-Turning Tension
  4. Creating Tension in Writing
  5. Creating Romantic Tension

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


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Catch you next month for our Write Better, Right Now posts on conflict.

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