Novel Writing Advice

Building Conflict and Tension: Keys to Compelling Novels

Welcome to our guide on building conflict and tension in novels! Aspiring novelists often find themselves facing the challenge of engaging readers with their storytelling. Creating conflict and tension in your novel is key to capturing readers’ attention and keeping them hooked until the very end. In this article, we’ll share valuable advice and tips on how to achieve this in your own writing.

Key Takeaways:

  • Crafting compelling novels requires building conflict and tension throughout the story
  • Develop a unique idea and add a kicker to grab readers’ attention
  • Enhance your basic concept by adding unexpected elements and raising the stakes
  • Create resonant characters and draft dynamic dialogue to engage readers
  • Understand the role of conflict and tension in different genres to appeal to a broader audience

The Importance of a Compelling Idea and Kicker

A great novel starts with a compelling idea that grabs readers’ attention. It sets the foundation for a story that will captivate and engage. However, it’s important to take that initial idea and develop it into a compelling concept that has the potential to sustain a full-length novel. A captivating premise is key to drawing readers in and keeping them invested from beginning to end.

One way to enhance the idea and add a layer of excitement is by incorporating a kicker. A kicker is more than just a plot twist; it’s a strategic element that raises the stakes for the characters and introduces a new level of conflict and tension. It takes the story in unexpected directions and keeps readers intrigued and eager to turn the page.

By combining a compelling idea with a well-executed kicker, writers can create a narrative that pulls readers in and holds their attention throughout the entire novel. The synergy between a captivating premise and a well-crafted kicker can elevate a story from good to extraordinary, leaving readers craving for more.

Benefits of a Compelling Idea and Kicker:

  • Grabs readers’ attention
  • Creates a foundation for an engaging story
  • Adds depth and complexity to the plot
  • Introduces conflict and tension
  • Keeps readers intrigued and eager to read more

“A compelling idea and an effective kicker can transform an ordinary story into an extraordinary one, leaving readers captivated and hungry for more.” – Bestselling Author

Tweaking Your Basic Idea for Unexpected Flair

To create a truly captivating novel, it’s essential to go beyond the ordinary and infuse your story with unexpected elements. By thinking outside the box and adding unique twists, you can bring freshness and excitement to your basic idea. Here are some creative ways to give your novel an unexpected flair:

1. Unique Setting

Consider placing your story in a setting that deviates from the norm. Whether it’s an undiscovered island, a hidden underground city, or a parallel universe, a unique setting can instantly grab readers’ attention and create an immersive experience.

2. Unusual Occupation

Give your protagonist an uncommon occupation that adds intrigue to the story. Whether it’s a professional treasure hunter, a paranormal investigator, or a time-traveling detective, an unusual occupation can raise the stakes and pique readers’ curiosity.

3. Unexpected Event

Add an unexpected event or twist that takes your story in a new direction. This can be a sudden betrayal, a shocking revelation, or an unexpected alliance. By introducing unexpected events, you keep readers on the edge of their seats and fuel their desire to uncover the next twist.

4. Raising the Stakes

Increase the tension and excitement by raising the stakes for your characters. This can be done through a life-threatening situation, a race against time, or a moral dilemma that challenges their values. By raising the stakes, you ensure that readers are emotionally invested in the outcome.

By incorporating these unexpected elements into your novel, you can elevate your basic idea and create a story that stands out from the rest. Let your imagination run wild and captivate readers with surprising twists and turns.

Unique SettingUnusual OccupationUnexpected EventRaising the Stakes
Undiscovered islandProfessional treasure hunterSudden betrayalLife-threatening situation
Hidden underground cityParanormal investigatorShocking revelationRace against time
Parallel universeTime-traveling detectiveUnexpected allianceMoral dilemma

The Role of a Kicker in Different Genres

Kickers play a crucial role in grabbing readers’ attention and setting the stage for an unforgettable reading experience. However, the type of kicker required can vary greatly depending on the genre of the novel. A strong kicker, often referred to as a high concept, is particularly essential in certain genres to draw the audience in and promise an emotional rollercoaster.

For instance, in dystopian novels like “The Hunger Games,” the intriguing premise of a game forcing children to murder each other creates immediate tension and intrigue. This high concept sets the stage for a thrilling story that explores the complexities of survival, sacrifice, and rebellion.

Understanding the importance of genre-specific kickers is vital for writers looking to craft compelling novels with broad appeal. By leveraging an intriguing premise and expertly executed kicker, authors can captivate readers and deliver a truly emotional experience.

Genres Requiring High Concept Kickers:

  • Dystopian
  • Psychological thriller
  • Science fiction
  • Fantasy
  • Supernatural

Genres Requiring Emotionally Charged Kickers:

  • Romance
  • Drama
  • Contemporary fiction
  • Literary fiction

While kickers may vary across genres, the ultimate goal remains the same: to entice readers, create intrigue, and promise an emotional journey they won’t soon forget.

Examples of Genre-Specific Kickers

GenreKicker Examples
DystopianA post-apocalyptic world where only children have the power to save humanity
Psychological thrillerA seemingly innocent friendship turns deadly when a long-buried secret is revealed
Science fictionA time-traveling protagonist must prevent a catastrophic event that could rewrite history
FantasyAn orphaned hero destined to save a magical kingdom from an ancient evil
SupernaturalA young woman discovers she has extraordinary powers and must choose between using them for good or evil

Tips for Crafting Compelling Storylines

Crafting compelling storylines involves several key elements that can make your novel stand out from the crowd. By incorporating these tips into your writing, you can create fresh and engaging narratives that captivate readers.

Avoiding Plot Clichés

To create a unique and original story, it’s important to steer clear of common plot clichés. Instead, challenge yourself to think outside the box and explore fresh ideas. By avoiding clichés, you can bring a new perspective to your storytelling and keep readers intrigued.

Generating New Story Ideas

One of the best ways to craft a compelling storyline is to generate new and unique story ideas. Tap into your creativity by asking yourself “what if?” questions. Explore different scenarios and possibilities that haven’t been explored before. This can lead to fresh and exciting concepts that will captivate readers.

Using the Power of Emotion

Emotion is a powerful tool in storytelling. By infusing your story with authentic and relatable emotions, you can create a deeper connection between your readers and your characters. Explore a range of emotions, from joy to sadness and everything in between, to bring your story to life.

Creating Resonant Characters

Resonant characters are those that readers can connect and empathize with. Take the time to develop well-rounded and complex characters with their own hopes, fears, and motivations. Give them unique qualities and flaws that make them relatable and memorable.

Drafting Dynamic Dialogue

Dialogue is a powerful tool for advancing the plot and revealing character depth. Create dialogue that is natural, dynamic, and reveals information about the characters and the story. Use dialogue to convey conflict, emotion, and tension, bringing the story to life in the minds of your readers.

“Crafting compelling storylines involves avoiding plot clichés, generating new story ideas, using the power of emotion, creating resonant characters, and drafting dynamic dialogue.”

The Art of Creating Tension in a Novel

In crafting a compelling novel, tension plays a vital role. It keeps readers hooked, eagerly turning each page to unravel the story’s mysteries and conflicts. Tension arises from the core building block of a novel: conflict. Through a dynamic of high stakes, the story gains intensity, making it impossible to look away.

To maximize the impact of tension, introducing mystery and additional layers of conflict adds depth to the narrative. This keeps readers on their toes, eagerly trying to unravel the complexities of the story. Complicating the resolution of conflict with lies or unexpected twists creates added tension, as readers become further invested in discovering the truth.

Another technique for maintaining tension is by condensing the timeline or adding a ticking clock element. This sense of urgency propels the story forward, leaving readers anxiously anticipating each passing moment. Furthermore, raising the emotional stakes heightens tension, as readers become deeply invested in the characters’ journeys, their hopes, and their struggles.

Conflict as the Core Building Block

Conflict serves as the cornerstone of any captivating novel. It ignites the fire that propels the story forward and keeps readers engaged. Without conflict, a story can quickly lose its momentum and fail to resonate with readers. By carefully crafting conflict, authors can create a strong foundation for tension to thrive.

Dynamic of High Stakes

High stakes inject a sense of urgency and importance into a story. They create a compelling reason for readers to become emotionally invested in the outcome. Whether it’s a life-or-death situation, a desperate race against time, or the potential loss of a cherished relationship, high stakes keep readers on the edge of their seats, captivated by the story’s twists and turns.

Introducing Mystery and Conflict

Mystery and conflict add layers of intrigue to a novel. They leave readers wanting and yearning for answers. By introducing unexpected elements and unresolved questions, authors create a hunger in readers to uncover the truth and understand the complexities of the story.

Complicating Resolution

Resolving conflict can’t be a straightforward path. By introducing complications such as lies or unexpected twists, authors ensure that the resolution remains elusive. These complications increase the tension, challenging readers to guess the outcome while keeping them engaged until the very end.

Condensing the Timeline

A condensed timeline or the addition of a ticking clock creates a sense of urgency. Every moment becomes precious, and readers are compelled to keep reading to see how events unfold. The passage of time becomes a valuable tool in maintaining tension, showcasing the stakes and heightening anticipation.

Raising Emotional Stakes

Emotional stakes tie readers to the characters on a deep, personal level. By raising these emotional stakes, authors elicit powerful emotions from their audience. Readers become emotionally invested in the characters’ happiness, well-being, and success, intensifying their connection to the story and driving them to experience the resolution.

In crafting a compelling novel, conflict serves as the core building block, and tension flows from this foundation. The dynamic of high stakes, introduction of mystery and conflict, complicating the resolution, condensing the timeline, and raising emotional stakes together create an unputdownable narrative that captivates readers until the very end.

Introducing a life-or-death situationCharacters face extreme danger, raising the stakes and gripping readers with suspense.
Unveiling a dark secretA shocking revelation adds layers of conflict and increases tension as characters navigate the consequences.
Imposing a time limitA race against time creates a sense of urgency and heightens tension as characters fight against the clock.
Pitting characters against each otherConflicts and rivalries between characters drive tension as readers witness the emotional turmoil and high-stakes confrontations.
Forcing difficult choicesCharacters are faced with tough decisions that have far-reaching consequences, causing tension as readers grapple with the moral dilemmas.

Techniques for Crafting an Expressive and Compelling Novel

When it comes to crafting an expressive and compelling novel, there are several techniques that can elevate your storytelling to new heights. By layering emotional moments, creating authentic characters, tying emotional stakes to relationships, using controversial themes, and posing intriguing dilemmas, you can create a gripping and memorable reading experience.

Layering Emotional Moments

Incorporating emotional moments throughout your story adds depth and resonance to your narrative. By carefully building and layering these moments, you can evoke a wide range of emotions in your readers, keeping them engaged and invested in the story. Whether it’s a heart-wrenching revelation or a heartwarming gesture, these emotional moments create a lasting impact and connection with your audience.

Creating Authentic Characters

Authenticity is key when it comes to crafting characters that resonate with readers. Develop your characters with rich backstories and profiles, allowing readers to relate to their experiences and motivations. By making your characters feel real and relatable, you create a strong emotional connection between your readers and the story.

Tying Emotional Stakes to Relationships

One effective way to heighten the emotional impact of your novel is by tying emotional stakes to the relationships between your characters. By exploring the depth and complexity of these relationships, you can create personal investment and make your readers care deeply about the outcome. Whether it’s a romantic relationship, familial bond, or friendship, the emotional stakes will add an extra layer of intensity and engagement to your story.

Using Controversial Themes

Controversial themes can be a powerful tool in crafting an expressive and compelling novel. By tackling sensitive and thought-provoking subjects, you can evoke strong emotions and spark meaningful discussions among your readers. However, it’s essential to approach these themes with care and respect, ensuring that they serve a purpose in the narrative and contribute to the overall storytelling experience.

Posing Intriguing Dilemmas

Engage your readers’ minds by posing intriguing dilemmas within your narrative. These moral, ethical, or personal dilemmas force your characters to make difficult choices, raising the stakes and adding tension to the story. Exploring the consequences of these dilemmas adds depth and complexity to your plot, leaving readers captivated by the moral ambiguity and eager to discover the resolution.

By implementing these techniques, you can create an expressive and compelling novel that resonates with readers on an emotional level. Whether you’re writing a heart-wrenching drama or a thrilling suspense, the power of layering emotional moments, creating authentic characters, tying emotional stakes to relationships, using controversial themes, and posing intriguing dilemmas can elevate your storytelling to the next level.

Creating Tension in Different Genres

Tension is a vital element in novels across various genres. While often associated with thrillers, tension also plays a crucial role in romance, fantasy, and mystery novels, each manifesting in unique ways.

In thrillers, tension is crafted through suspense and danger. The constant threat of the unknown keeps readers on the edge of their seats, eagerly turning the pages to uncover the truth.

Romance novels thrive on the complexities of relationships and conflicts of emotions. The push and pull between the protagonists, the yearning for affection, and the fear of heartbreak create a palpable tension that leaves readers captivated and emotionally invested.

Fantasy novels introduce tension through the struggle between good and evil. The fate of entire worlds hangs in the balance as heroes battle against powerful villains, their clash of ideologies fueling a sense of urgency and anticipation.

Mystery novels depend on suspense and the anticipation of solving a puzzle. With each clue and twist, tension steadily builds, enticing readers to unravel the mysteries alongside the protagonist.

Comparing Tension in Different Genres

ThrillersSuspense and danger
RomanceComplex relationships and conflicts of emotions
FantasyStruggle between good and evil
MysterySuspense and puzzle-solving

No matter the genre, understanding how tension can be created and sustained is essential for crafting captivating novels that keep readers engaged from start to finish.

The Role of Conflict and Tension in Reader Engagement

When it comes to captivating storytelling, conflict and tension play a vital role in reader engagement. These elements create an emotional journey for readers, keeping them invested in the story and eager to know what happens next.

By skillfully employing conflict and tension, writers can craft narratives that leave a lasting impact on their audience. Let’s explore how these elements contribute to the overall reader experience.

Creating Emotional Depth

Conflict and tension evoke a wide range of emotions in readers, such as anticipation, excitement, fear, and empathy. These powerful emotions enhance the reader’s connection to the story and its characters, making the reading experience more immersive and impactful. When readers become emotionally invested in the narrative, they are more likely to continue reading and eagerly await the resolution of conflicts.

Fueling Reader Curiosity

Conflict and tension are like breadcrumbs sprinkled throughout the story, compelling readers to follow the trail and satisfy their curiosity. As conflicts arise and tensions build, readers become more eager to uncover the answers to the story’s mysteries and see how the characters will overcome their challenges. This curiosity drives reader engagement, keeping them turning the pages in anticipation of what lies ahead.

Enhancing Narrative Pace

Conflict and tension contribute to the pacing of a story, creating peaks and valleys that keep the reader engaged. Intense conflicts and high-tension moments quicken the pace, creating a sense of urgency and propelling the story forward. Conversely, resolving conflicts and alleviating tension creates temporary lulls, allowing readers to catch their breath before the next wave of excitement. This ebb and flow maintain a captivating rhythm that keeps readers hooked.

“Conflict and tension are the ingredients that transform a story from mere words on a page into an emotional rollercoaster ride for readers.”

Overall, conflict and tension are essential tools in a writer’s arsenal for capturing and holding the attention of readers. By skillfully weaving conflicts, raising tensions, and providing satisfying resolutions, writers can create a captivating and unforgettable reading experience for their audience.

Now, let’s take a look at a compelling fictional example that demonstrates the power of conflict and tension in reader engagement:

Example: Conflict and Tension in Action
Main Conflict:The protagonist, Emily, is torn between her duty to her family and her desire for true love.
Tension Points:
  • Emily’s family disapproves of her relationship with a rebellious artist.
  • The artist’s ex-lover resents Emily’s presence and becomes a persistent antagonist.
  • Emily’s family threatens to disown her if she continues the relationship.
Resolution:Emily must make a difficult choice—to defy her family and pursue love, or conform to their expectations and give up her happiness.

Recommended Books for Crafting Compelling Novels

To enhance your novel writing skills and learn more about crafting compelling stories, there are several recommended books available. These resources offer valuable insights and techniques for aspiring novelists. Let’s explore some of the noteworthy options:

“The Writer’s Guide to Beginnings” by Paula Munier

Looking to hook readers from the very first page? This book focuses on crafting story openings that captivate and engage readers. Munier offers practical advice on creating compelling beginnings that leave a lasting impression.

“The Irresistible Novel” by Jeff Gerke

If you’re aiming to craft extraordinary stories that captivate readers from start to finish, this book is a must-read. Gerke shares expert guidance on developing captivating premises, unique characters, and engaging plots that keep readers hooked until the final page.

“Writing with Emotion, Tension, and Conflict” by Cheryl St. John

Emotional writing is essential for creating powerful and resonant novels. St. John’s book provides techniques for infusing emotion, tension, and conflict into your storytelling. Learn how to elicit emotional responses from readers and keep them invested in your characters and their journeys.

“The Secrets of Story” by Matt Bird

This book delves into innovative tools and techniques for perfecting fiction writing. Bird explores the art of storytelling, helping writers craft narratives that captivate and resonate with readers. Discover the secrets behind creating memorable characters, compelling plots, and immersive worlds.

“Wonderbook” by Jeff Vandermeer

Vandermeer’s “Wonderbook” is an illustrated guide to unleashing your creativity and crafting imaginative fiction. This visually captivating resource explores different aspects of novel writing, including world-building, character development, and unique storytelling techniques.

“The Emotional Craft of Fiction” by Donald Maass

Maass’s book delves into the emotional aspects of storytelling. Learn how to create deep connections between your characters and readers through skillful handling of emotions. Explore techniques for eliciting strong emotional responses and crafting stories that leave a lasting impact.

These recommended books offer valuable writing resources, techniques, and insights for aspiring novelists. Whether you’re looking to improve your story openings, craft extraordinary narratives, or infuse emotional depth into your writing, these resources are sure to help you enhance your craft and create compelling novels.

Utilizing Online Writing Resources

In addition to books, there are various online resources available to help aspiring novelists improve their writing skills. Whether you’re a beginner or looking to level up your writing abilities, these online writing resources can provide the guidance and support you need to become a more accomplished writer.

Online Writing Courses

One of the most effective ways to enhance your writing skills is by enrolling in online writing courses. These courses offer comprehensive instruction on different aspects of writing, from developing compelling characters to crafting engaging dialogue. Writing for Life Workshops is a reputable platform that offers a wide range of online writing courses, designed to cater to various skill levels and areas of interest. By enrolling in these courses, you can gain valuable insights and practical knowledge that will help you elevate your novel writing abilities.

Video Tutorials

If you prefer learning through visual demonstrations, video tutorials can be an excellent resource for improving your writing skills. Live Write Thrive is a reputable platform that offers a vast collection of video tutorials specifically tailored to aspiring writers. These tutorials cover topics such as plot development, character arcs, and narrative pacing. By watching these videos, you can learn valuable techniques and strategies from experienced authors, allowing you to hone your craft and create more impactful novels.

Blog Resources

Another valuable online resource for aspiring novelists is blogs dedicated to writing advice and tips. Live Write Thrive, in addition to their video tutorials, offers an informative blog filled with articles that cover a wide range of writing topics. These articles provide in-depth insights and practical tips on various aspects of writing, such as story structure, dialogue, and character development. By exploring these blog resources, you can access a wealth of information that will assist you in leveling up your writing skills and becoming a more proficient novelist.

Accessing these online writing resources can be a game-changer for aspiring novelists. Whether you choose to enroll in online writing courses, watch video tutorials, or explore blog resources, these valuable tools will help you enhance your writing skills and take your novel writing abilities to new heights. So why wait? Start exploring these online resources today and embark on a journey of growth and improvement as a writer.


Crafting a compelling novel is an art that requires careful attention to storytelling techniques and reader engagement. Through building conflict and tension, writers can create a narrative that captivates and engages readers from start to finish.

One of the keys to successful storytelling is developing a unique idea that grabs readers’ attention. By adding a kicker, writers can raise the stakes and create conflict that drives the story forward. Additionally, tweaking the basic concept with unexpected elements, such as an unusual setting or an uncommon occupation, brings freshness to the plot and keeps readers engaged.

Resonant characters, dynamic dialogue, and the use of emotion are essential in crafting compelling novels. Understanding the role of conflict and tension in different genres allows writers to tailor their storytelling to specific audience expectations. By raising the emotional stakes, writers can create a deeper connection between readers and the story.

To further enhance their novel writing skills, aspiring writers can utilize recommended books and online writing resources. These resources offer valuable advice and guidance on various aspects of novel crafting, providing writers with the tools they need to engage readers and create captivating stories.

With the knowledge gained from novel writing advice, the art of crafting compelling novels, the keys to successful storytelling, and engaging readers, writers can embark on a creative journey that captivates, inspires, and leaves a lasting impact on readers.


What are the keys to building conflict and tension in a novel?

The keys to building conflict and tension in a novel include developing a compelling idea, adding a kicker, thinking outside the box, and raising the stakes for the characters.

How can I enhance my basic novel idea for unexpected flair?

To enhance your basic novel idea for unexpected flair, consider placing the story in an unusual setting, giving the protagonist an uncommon occupation, or adding unexpected events or twists to raise the stakes and make the story more intriguing.

How does the role of a kicker differ in different genres?

The role of a kicker varies based on the genre of the novel. In some genres, a strong kicker or high concept is essential to draw the audience in and promise an emotional experience.

What are some tips for crafting compelling storylines?

Some tips for crafting compelling storylines include avoiding common plot cliches, generating new story ideas by asking “what if?”, using the power of emotion, creating resonant characters, and drafting dynamic dialogue.

How can I create tension in a novel?

Tension in a novel can be created by making conflict the core building block, introducing mystery and additional layers of conflict, complicating the resolution of conflict, condensing the timeline, and raising the emotional stakes.

What techniques can I use to craft an expressive and compelling novel?

Techniques for crafting an expressive and compelling novel include layering emotional moments throughout the story, creating authentic characters with backstories and profiles, tying emotional stakes to the relationships between characters, using controversial themes, and posing intriguing dilemmas.

How does tension vary in different genres?

Tension varies in different genres. Thrillers rely on suspense and danger, romance novels have tension based on complex relationships and conflicting emotions, fantasy novels have tension from the struggle between good and evil, and mystery novels thrive on suspense and the anticipation of solving a puzzle.

Why are conflict and tension crucial for reader engagement?

Conflict and tension create an emotional journey for readers and keep them invested in the story. They are essential for reader engagement and create captivating storytelling experiences.

Are there any recommended books for crafting compelling novels?

Yes, some recommended books for crafting compelling novels include “The Writer’s Guide to Beginnings” by Paula Munier, “The Irresistible Novel” by Jeff Gerke, “Writing with Emotion, Tension, and Conflict” by Cheryl St. John, “The Secrets of Story” by Matt Bird, “Wonderbook” by Jeff Vandermeer, and “The Emotional Craft of Fiction” by Donald Maass.

Are there online resources available for improving novel writing skills?

Yes, there are various online resources available, including online writing courses offered by Writing for Life Workshops, video tutorials, and blog resources like Live Write Thrive that offer comprehensive instruction and guidance for aspiring novelists.

How do I create a compelling novel with conflict and tension?

To create a compelling novel with conflict and tension, focus on building a strong idea, adding a kicker, thinking outside the box, developing resonant characters, crafting dynamic dialogue, and raising the emotional stakes. Understand the role of conflict and tension in different genres, and utilize recommended books and online resources to enhance your writing skills.

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