By Terry Misfeldt
A young writer asked me about adding tension to a scene and how you do it. The simple response is to create stressful situations.
Of course, you have to understand what causes stress. Things like divorce, danger, disaster, and diagnosis of life-threatening diseases such as cancer are on the list.
Think about the television shows you’ve seen where two characters are driving in a car when there’s a sudden, violent collision…and the scene ends! You’re left wondering whether they survived, were severely injured, were intentionally rammed by an evil character, or merely in the wrong place at the wrong time.
When that happened in the Nashville series, the female lead was killed in the crash. It is a dramatic twist that, in some cases, can devastate the future of a program.
In a recent episode of The Rookie, Officer Nolan is under duress because his girlfriend thinks she’s pregnant and he’s not ready to be a parent again. He already has an older son. They break up when he tells her he doesn’t want more children yet.
Dangerous situations or impending peril add tension. Arguments in dialogue add stress. Think about things that make you tense and craft them into your scene.
An example for adding stress is if you create a scene where a woman is walking alone on a deserted street at night and suddenly hears footsteps behind her after she hears a car stop and the van’s sliding door creak open. Take it from there.