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Writing Tips for Children - Learning to Write Suspenseful Stories

Mar 4, 2008
Whether it is a book or a short story, people stop reading if you don't engage their interest at the beginning to draw them in. Once they are hooked, keep them in suspense by building tension into your writing. Let them feel like they are really there, feeling the excitement and sharing the emotions of the character.

How to Write Tension Scenes

The tension scene is often overlooked in children's writing. This is the scene right before the ending where the hero or heroine struggles to overcome the big problem. In movies, this is often the scene of the soccer grand final, the exciting car chase or the heroine fighting for her life in a raging river.

I thought it would be fun to look at Little Red Riding Hood for a classic tension scene. Little Red Riding Hood arrives at the cottage and goes into her Grandmother's bedroom.

In bed is the wolf in granny's clothes. Little Red Riding Hood, (who obviously needs glasses!) says this:

'Oh, grandmother, what big ears you have!'

'All the better to hear you with.'

'Oh, grandmother, what big eyes you have!'

'All the better to see you with.'

'Oh, grandmother, what big hands you have!'

'All the better to grab you with!'

'Oh, grandmother, what big teeth you have!'

'All the better to eat you with!'

See how the scene slowly builds up to be more and more dangerous - and thus frightening? We don't start with the teeth, we start with the ears - and the wolf trying to coax Red RH to come nearer and nearer.

In a tension scene, a flood doesn't start with the damn wall bursting, it begins with a tiny trickle of water oozing from a crack. The trickle builds up, becoming stronger, and then a chunk of concrete falls, no bigger than a hand. The noise is growing. There is a crash as two blocks of concrete fall, and the crack is splitting, spreading relentlessly. Water is gushing out like a stream, stronger, harder, more powerful, forcing more concrete chunks to fall, more noise, more danger... and then suddenly the whole wall crumples and shatters and water bursts forth, raging in a towering wall of water down the river, sweeping away trees, houses and helpless, terrified humans in its path.

Emotion always takes time to build up. So in tension scenes, show kids how to start small and 'escalate' to a powerful crescendo.

(C) Jen McVeity, National Literacy Champion.
About the Author
The fun Seven Steps to Writing Success program, by successful author, Jen McVeity, is in 900+ schools. Suited to the home school curriculum & gifted children, it has rapidly increased students' writing skills and enjoyment. Visit http://www.sevenstepswriting.com for top writing tips and activities - more in the free Parent Newsletters. Click on 'Sample' tab for a free Story Starters Worksheet.
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