17.33: Building Tension

Your Hosts: Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal, Maurice Broaddus, and Howard Tayler

Tension! In this episode we discuss the ways dialog can build and/or maintain tension, especially when placed in context with the rest of the scene.

Liner Notes: A great article about tension for those who (like Howard) may need a solid working definition –Toward a general psychological model of tension and suspense

Credits: This episode was recorded by Daniel Thompson, and mastered by Alex Jackson.


Pick a moral compromise, and have a character explain why they made a questionable choice. Write four versions of the scene – the character explains it to a child, to their parent, to a law enforcement officer, and to an old friend.

Meru, by S.B. Divya

4 thoughts on “17.33: Building Tension”

  1. That analogy to Wagner is such a good analogy for those of us with that grounding. I can recommend listening to the Prelude to Tristan and Isolde which is almost all a series of resolving and new tensions. It isn’t a surprise that this is what Lars von Trier used for the opening scenes of the destruction of earth in Melancholia. Always resolving and adding tension.

    I of course will have to do the exercise, but for each character in their own voice.

  2. This week, the quartet in the corner, Dan, Mary Robinette, Maurice, and Howard, planted a stake in one spot and pulled and stretched and yanked… to get the tension tight and hard! A bomb under the table, sharks in the water, what are the stakes? The law of the half step. A stake, an elastic line, and all the things that are pulling it tight. Don’t have someone kick down the door and interrupt the conversation every single time just to delay a resolution. Go ahead, you can read all about it in the transcript available now in the archives.

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