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How to Create Tension in your Screenplay

Building tension in your thriller or drama story can be difficult at times.  There really is an art to creating the tension that audiences love and that will separate your script from the pack.  Here I will cover three key elements to creating tension in your screenplay story.

First, the Time element.  By creating a ticking clock element to your story where the protagonist must accomplish something before time runs out really amps up the drama and action, hence creating tension.  You can also speed up or slow down an event or events to emphasis or bring about tension and drama. 

Second, the Character element.  By raising questions about the central character right off the bat you create this underlining tension and build drama as you reveal the motives or background of your protagonist.  Characters with a potential dark or questionable past can be highly effective in creating doubt and drama.  But with all this you must answer any question raised by the story’s conclusion.  And finally, by having your character make a surprising and unexpected choice that sends the story in an unexpected direction, you can really get your reader and your audience hooked into the storyline  This usually occurs at the end of the first act.

Third, the P.O.V. element.  By keeping your central character in the unknown (hence the Point of View of the story) but yet the reader knows, can keep your audience on the edge of their seat as they helplessly watch (read) the protagonist head for certain downfall.  Obviously, only at the last moment does the central character figure it out… or maybe not and there’s a twist that brings about the lowest point at the end of the second act.  Then you can flip this and tell the story through only the eyes of the protagonist and the twists and turns are revealed to the reader as the central character experiences them.

There are certainly other ways to increase tension and drama, but these are the main ones I like to focus on when I am writing.  Happy Writing!

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About the Author


Take Chris' Class: Writing Screenplays Hollywood Wants.  12 tutorials, 1.5 hours of video instruction, and a weekly interactive video Q & A.  All for just $19.95!

(Follow on Twitter) Christopher Wehner is a published author and produced screenwriter, EL CAMINO CHRISTMAS @Netflix and AMERICAN DREAMER  (later this year); visit his IMDB page for future projects.   Christopher has been a leading member of the online screenwriter's community going back to the 1990s.   In 2001 he published the groundbreaking book Screenwriting on the Internet: Researching, Writing and Selling Your Script on the Web,.

To contact Chris visit his website:  Warm Beer Productions.

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