18.09: Unpacking the Tension

For the next several episodes we’ll be talking about tension. That may seem like a lot of time to spend on just one word, but as we unpack that word we see that there’s plenty of material to work with, and there’s a generous supply of tools in that material.

For our purposes, we’ve categorized the tension subcategories as follows:

  • Anticipation
  • Juxtaposition
  • Unanswered Questions
  • Conflict
  • Microtension

Your own taxonomy may differ, and that’s fine, but having a taxonomy is important because when we name our tools we’re better at using them.

Credits: Your hosts for this episode were Mary Robinette Kowal, DongWon Song, Erin Roberts, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler. It was recorded by Marshall Carr, Jr., and mastered by Alex Jackson.


In this episode we covered five types of tension: Anticipation, Juxtaposition, Unanswered Questions, Conflict, and Microtension. Look at your current WIP (or something that you are reading) and identify examples of each of these.

Dark One: Forgotten, by Brandon Sanderson & Dan Wells
This will be featured in an upcoming “Deep Dive” episode.

4 thoughts on “18.09: Unpacking the Tension”

  1. When mention was made of brief, fleeting elements of tension in a scene — I couldn’t help remember the moment in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” where Indy and Marion are captured and confronted by a Nazi, who pulls out an evil segmented metal wire-looking thing…that he then assembles into a coat hanger..

  2. This week, Mary Robinette, DongWon, Erin, Dan, and Howard laid out various kinds of tension, anticipation, juxtaposition, unanswered questions, conflict, and micro-tension. This week lays the foundation for the next several weeks, where they will look at each type of tension in detail. Emotional engagement, the difference between the tension that characters feel and what readers feel, and plenty of examples and discussion. Read all about it in the transcript available now in the archives, and then wait for the next thrilling episode, when they will probably tackle anticipation.

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