Say what’cha need to say (tension, part one)

Do you ever notice our conversations? Real life, normal conversations?

We don’t push buttons. We play nice and say good things and generally avoid conflict. At least I do. I really don’t like tension-filled conversations — they make my palms sweaty and they twist up my tongue.

In novels, however, conversations have to snap with tension. There’s no other way. Characters can’t talk about the weather or ramble about their days; they must say things that make other people uncomfortable or angry, they must bare their souls (or hide their souls), argue and gossip and lie.

Take, for example, this excerpt from FELL. Birch, having just gotten on the bus, sees Harley, this kid who doesn’t seem to have a home and also always appears on her bus routes. She sits down next to him. The scene doesn’t have much momentum yet, and it makes total sense for Birch and Harley to say hello. I mean, I would say hello. But “hello” doesn’t establish tension, start things off with a bang, or make me want to read (or write) any further. Instead:

“You’re early,” he says.

“Do you have my schedule memorized?” I choose not to be creeped out by it.

“It’s an easy schedule.” He rolls his head to one side so we’re almost nose to nose. He looks exhausted, shivery. His hair’s greasier and his eyes are darker, sadder, smudged with circles.

“Were you waiting for me?”

Now that is interesting (I hope). When your characters say unexpected things, push buttons, and dive into taboo subjects, your readers will get glued to your scenes.

But don’t try this at home — save it for the books.


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10 responses to “Say what’cha need to say (tension, part one)

  1. That is definitely interesting! Makes me want to read more. =)

    And I never thought of dialogues having to be filled with tension before — just scenes. But you’re absolutely right! Thank you.

    • writerkirsty

      You’re welcome! I’m glad it was helpful. Sometimes it’s too easy to write lousy dialogue that doesn’t push anything forward — so this was a good reminder for me, too, haha, to keep the ball rolling!

  2. Rebecca

    I already really like this mysterious Harley character. 🙂 Great snippet!

  3. It’s so true that fictional convos need to be way more interesting that real convos, LOL. And I totally avoid tension, too. Man, real life’s so boring. (:

  4. “But don’t try this at home — save it for the books.”

    Hahahaha. True 🙂

    Lovely post, and you’re so right! Also, I ❤ the snippet–your writing is so alive.

  5. So am I the only one who gets giddy with excitement during a tense conversation? Like, ‘I wonder when this conversation is going to blow up in our face?’ Am I?


    Well. At least I have real life experience to apply to fiction, right? :p

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