Enhance Tension, Conflict and Drama Using Your Characters
Characters don’t just help tell the story – they also add different perspectives and dimensions to situations and incidents, and the narrative. Not only that, but most importantly, they help to move the story forward.
The prime ingredients to create drama are conflict and tension. Drama brings both action and characters to life, and we use characters to enhance conflict, tension and drama in ways simple narrative won’t. Characters can convey more than just a few lines of dialogue. They can lift the story from the page. That’s because they are like real people – they have emotions and sensibilities and they react to things and people around them in so many ways. In other words, writers should appeal to the reader’s senses by showing their characters’ reactions and emotions to the things that go on around them. Don’t ‘tell’ or explain things – let the characters lead the reader.
We tend to think of conflict and tension by way of description and narrative, but writers shouldn’t let their characters go underused. Whenever two characters are pitted against each other, it creates tension, which in turn grows and eventually ignites into full-blown conflict.
It’s how the writer uses their characters that can make the right impact with the reader, because what happens to the character as he or she tries to get to the end goal is a great source of tension. What is the character trying to do? What obstacles stand in their way? This creates drama, because the reader is hoping the main character is able to get over those problems or dangerous situations.
What other character’s actions might affect the protagonist? How else might a nail-biting situation unfold? What are the consequences if the main character fails? How will the main character act? What will he or she do next? How will he or she make it to the next chapter? This is how characters drive up the tension and thus create lots of drama.
It goes without saying - show the readers. Don’t just tell them; otherwise they won’t make that emotional connection with them and they won’t feel the immediacy of what’s happening within the scene. What are the characters reacting to? Why are they reacting? How does the character react? What senses do they use? What is their body language? What’s their temperament or voice control? What do they truly feel? What are they thinking in that moment?
Without any of this, the reader won’t feel anything that the character is supposedly feeling.
Of course, the one thing readers need, and what elevates any story is good old-fashioned emotion. It’s surprising how few writers pay little attention to this and why so many characters can be as flat as the narrative. But it’s so important in storytelling. Emotion lies at the heart of any conflict and tension, whether they’re negative emotions like hatred, disagreement or jealousy, or positive emotions like happiness (yes, even happy emotions can cause conflict). Emotions require an action – so somewhere, at some point, a character will do something to upset another character in some way.
That’s why it’s important for writers to show a character’s emotions and inner thoughts as they describe their scenes. The reader needs to see how the character really feels and how something truly affects them – the reader needs to feel part of it.
That’s why characters, if used properly, can enhance the tension, conflict and drama. The story can be made multi-layered and richer for it, so make sure your characters act, react, feel and think. Show the reader.
Let your characters carry the story – they’re the ones living through it, after all.