How to revise & resubmit, Part 4: Adding tension and context

We’re nearing the end of this R&R series, and a few big hurdles are behind you. But even if your plots are balanced, your pacing is on point, and your characters are the bomb… This unfortunately means nothing without two key factors.

Tension and context.

Before we dig too deep, let me define these concepts from a writing perspective:

  • Tension: What keeps your reader turning pages.
  • Context: The information surrounding the information.

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I am not going to lie to you. This is where I struggled the most when revising.

To me, the stakes are obviously high enough or I wouldn’t be writing the novel.

And duh, why do I need context? Everything makes perfect sense to me!

Then I remembered… I am the author. Of course, my reading experience is obviously going to differ from that of my readers, potential agents and editors, etc.

Because I made it all up in my head!

That’s one of the main reasons, I asked you to print your novel at the beginning of this exercise. You need to read your manuscript like a reader… not like a writer!

And in doing this, I found quite a few sections in need of some work.

While reading for tension and context issues, ask yourself these questions:

  • If I were a reader, would I turn the page?
  • If I were a reader, would I understand this scene with what is given to me?

If your answer to either of these questions is “no,” it’s time to do some work.


Turning up tension

The biggest concern from the agents who requested a revision of State of Grace was that the “stakes weren’t high enough.”

If Dani loses the lawsuit, what are the consequences?

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That’s a problem. Your character has to go through a metaphorical (or literal) death and rebirth┬áin order to satisfy readers. What could possibly motivate your M.C. to take that risk with no consequences? On why on Earth would your readers care?

So in my new draft, Dani must win this case in order to accomplish her lifelong dream of becoming partner at her law firm. She must win so that her client can still attend college. She must win to keep both her and her client from being shunned from their community. She must win to take a stand against sexual assault and those who brush it under the rug.

And not only is this an issue in the novel, it’s currently a huge issue in our world. See: Baylor and Brock Turner.

Make your story matter to both your characters and readers. Then you have tension.

To sustain it, follow these eight great tips from Writer’s Edit. Seriously go read it.


Compounding context

Some of you may be wondering why I combined the concepts of tension and context into one blog. Here’s why:

“The more imaginative and informed a reader is the more implicitly they understand the potential consequences which are being used to create tension.” – Robert Wood

You can not create tension without first providing context.

For example, there is a big surprise toward the middle of State of Grace. I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s enough to drive Dani into a bit of a meltdown.

But several of my beta readers mentioned that the reveal was too jolting. There was no lead-in, there was no background, there was no foreshadowing… There was no context. Therefore, the event lost all its tension and startled the reader out of the story.

Yes, context obviously includes backstory, setting, historical background, etc.

But it goes a lot farther than that. It provides insight into your character’s goals, motives, fears and scars.

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With “dynamic description” of these details, you can weave context seamlessly into your story without feeling like you are pausing to add irrelevant information or spoiling your climax.

Mary Jaksch explains this concept better than I ever could, so hop on over to WritetoDone to read more on “The Art of Dynamic Descriptions.


With these two concepts addressed, you have reached the last major step in your revision.

Oh, wait… That’s a lie.

Now it’s time to start copy editing… Stay tuned for the final blog in my revision series!

 

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