For Readers & Writers
from Susan Dennard
M&D Issue #131

January 4, 2018

What's in this heart-to-heart?

Recent Goings On:

My miscarriage is still going on. 16 days and counting now. While part of me is just ready for this to end and my normal life to resume, another part of me...isn't.

Because then it's over. Then it's like this baby never happened. It was never a part of me, and it never lived -- however briefly.

That thought breaks my heart.

But I also know that this is part of grief, and one day, this hole in my chest will heal over. Sure, it will leave a scar, but it's one I'll wear proudly.

But in other, FUN news, I have been binging Farscape and I am obsessed. Cue: Sooz falling down a wormhole (just like Crichton - hehehe). This show is sooooooo trippy and SOOOOOO ridiculous and I love every single second of it.

Also, Crichton and Aeryn are the ship to sink all ships. The chemistry between them is ELECTRIC, and Claudia Black is truly perfection in everything she does.

For the Misfits & Witchlanders:


TE3 is an Editor's Choice on Wattpad
+ Bloodwitch Preorder Campaign!


Guys! The Executioners Three is being featured as an Editor's Choice on Wattpad!

I am SO excited because I really do love this story so much. But it feels like I am SCREAMING INTO THE VOID begging people to read it. And I get it: people want more Witchlands, not something new.

But seriously, I think this is a genuinely good book that will make you laugh and smile and maybe scream with just a little fright. ;)

Plus, it's PACKED full of Witchlands inside jokes. And you know you want to read those.

So hopefully this featured listing will boost the readership! And of course, if you're already reading, then don't miss all the new chapters I've shared since the last newsletter.
Don't forget the preorder campaign now running for Bloodwitch! If you submit your receipt, you'll get TWO enamel pins designed by Alex Castellanos!

Just be sure to preorder a hardcover or ebook of Bloodwitch before the release day (February 12, 2018), and submit your receipts to this website. (If you have trouble uploading your receipt, please email!)

And abracadabra! That's all you have to do! After the book releases, you'll get your pins!*


*Note: Unfortunately, the campaign is US/Canada (minus Quebec) only. I'm sorry! That is not in my control. But if you want to get the goodies and you're abroad, then you can order from Good Choice Reading! Not only will you get the enamel pins, but you'll also get a signed copy too!

*Also note: Faecrate sales do NOT count for the enamel pins. I am so sorry. This isn't something I had a decision in, and I hope you all will understand.

For the Daydreamers:

Building Tension


This post came out of a conversation on the Witchlanders Discord about Spider Man: Homecoming. Full disclosure, I’m not that into superheroes (yeah, yeah, I know I’m weird). They’re not the kind of movies I’ll pay for at a movie theater, but hey – if it’s on Netflix, sure.
That said, while on a writer’s retreat with much more movie-enthusiastic friends, I ended up seeing Spider Man: Homecoming. AND I LOVED IT. I thought it was hilarious and that Tom Holland was such an endearing, awkward Peter Parker.
But what I especially loved was one particular scene and how rampant tension was crafted without any explosions, any chasing, or any real action at all.
(SPOILERS AHEAD!) The scene is, in fact, nothing more than Peter Parker sitting in a car with his Homecoming date while the date’s dad drives them to the dance.
The catch? The date’s dad is the bad guy, Vulture. Peter knows it’s the Vulture as soon as he meets him; Vulture, however, has yet to realize Peter Parker is Spider Man.
Then we watch as Vulture slowly figures it out – all because the date, Liz, keeps saying things that accidentally give Peter away. So of course, the tension that we see Peter feeling is the same tension WE feel.
Noooooo! Stop speaking, Liz! NOOOO! Don’t figure it out, Vulture!!!!
But of course, Vulture figures it out, and the lead up to that moment is packed with fantastic tension. I felt genuinely sick in the movie theater watching it unfold. Even rewatching it to write this newsletter made my chest feel leaden all over again.

So what exactly made it work so well? Well, the key to any scene is conflict. If a character coasts through life unimpeded, then you don’t have a story at all. It’s just…I don’t know…a really boring list of events.
Conflict is what makes story. The character wants something but can’t have it because there are obstacles in their way.
In big actions scenes, the conflict is obvious. A bus that can’t go below 50 mph or it will explode. An army of orcs and a balrog. A volcano exploding over a tiny town called Dante’s Peak.
But what about the quieter scenes like Spider Man: Homecoming? Where’s the conflict then? Well, there’s a few ways to craft it.

  • Conflicting goals
  • Imbalance in audience versus character awareness
  • Rising stakes

I Don’t Want What You Want

Crafting conflicting goals is one of the best ways to build tension on the page. In fact, I’d argue that if you have more than one character in a scene, they should be in conflict (unless it’s a scene specifically about “coming together,” like a reunion or romantic scene).

Even if the characters in the scene are allies seeking the same goal, they should disagree about how to do that. This disagreement can then play out in a tension-rife dialogue exchange – think about any argument on any TV show. (Um, Gus and Shawn, anyone?)

Or we can see conflicting goals unfold when allies take different approaches in a high stakes scene – and thereby screw each other up.

For example, in Truthwitch, Safi puts Merik’s entire ship at risk while trying to save her Threadsister Iseult – all because she doesn’t like the plans Merik had to help her. She wants results now, so she takes dangerous steps to get them. (And of course, things go very badly because of this decision.)

In Spider Man: Homecoming while sitting in the car, Peter Parker just wants his identity to remain secret from the Vulture. But Liz wants her dad to know more about Peter, so she’s talking about him – and giving away key details of Peter’s life that clue in Vulture. And of course, as Vulture’s awareness increases, his own goal shifts from “driving daughter to dance” to “confront Spider Man in this car.” All of these goals conflict, and it makes for fantastic tension.


I Want Two Very Different Things

You can also have conflicting goals within a single character. In fact, this is a great way to build tension – the character wants two very different things, and they can't have both.
This is, in fact, the main driving conflict for Aeduan in Bloodwitch, and leads to one of my favorite lines in the book:

"He was caught, like the man from the tale who wanted to feed his family during a blizzard, but could not bear to kill the lamb. In the end, everyone died of starvation, including the lamb.
For Lady Fate makes all men choose eventually. Even Bloodwitches"

Or think about Frodo in Lord of the Rings. He wants to possess the ring; he wants to destroy the ring. That conflict drives the bulk of his entire narrative.
And of course, we can’t forget Peter Parker! Throughout Spider Man: Homecoming, he wants to stop Vulture…but he also wants to impress Liz and just do what regular teens do. These goals come into conflict repeatedly.

The Reader Knows More than I Do

This is my favorite way to build tension – and it’s probably the MOST tense out of the entire list. In fact, it’s employed constantly (and to great effect) in the horror genre.
Basically, the audience knows there is danger ahead; the character does not and they proceed foolishly onward.
How many times has a character gone into the kitchen to inspect a noise…only to then get a knife in the back? How many times has a character ignored the obvious signs of a ghost in the house, and then ruh-roh, MURDEROUS CLOWN DOLLS?
We, the audience, know the character should RUN THE OTHER WAY. But the character has no idea, and that in turn leaves us waiting for that key payoff moment when everything goes awry.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be that the reader knows more. Any time there is an intentional imbalance of knowledge – the bad guy knows more or the protagonist knows more or one ally chooses to withhold information – there will be conflict.
Why? Because we know that eventually the imbalanced character will figure things out – the teacher will catch the cheating student, the murder victim will get that knife in the back, or the cops will find the secret stash – and when that happens, it won’t be good.
That tension between knowing what’s coming and hoping it doesn’t builds incredible conflict.
So back to Spider Man: Homecoming. The car scene is, of course, the perfect example. Peter (and the viewer) know more than Vulture. Things are tense simply because of that, and we don’t want Vulture to figure out who Peter is.
But of course Vulture does, and watching that unfold –waiting for that key pay off moment – is filled with so much nail-biting terror.

Danger on the Horizon

One more way to make sure your story is rife with tension is to make sure your stakes are very, very clearly defined – and also, that your stakes are constantly rising.
In Truthwitch, the opening scene shows Safi and Iseult targeting the wrong carriage in their roadside heist. This alerts a Bloodwitch to Safi’s unique magic as a Truthwitch, and suddenly the girls are on the run.
But that’s only the beginning. Soon enough, the girls have two empires hunting them – and that pesky Bloodwitch is still out there too.
However, this IS NOT a rise in stakes. This is just a rise in conflict: more bad guys to contend with. The actual rise in stakes comes when Merik gets involved because now his ship, his crew, and his entire nation are at risk too.

It’s no longer just about Safi and Iseult; it’s about all of Nubrevna.
And remember: stakes don’t have to be life and death. They can be much more familiar: will he keep his job? Will she win the triathlon? Will the girl in 8th period biology say yes to prom?
The key is to be clear in what the character stands to lose (or gain) and to make sure that you keep elevating it as the story progresses.
(On a similar note, I talked about leveling up you characters in the last newsletter.)

A Note on Romantic Tension

Will they, won’t they? Romantic tension is some of my favorite stuff to write, and there are so many ways to handle it.
In fact, ultimately, romantic tension is just an extension of “regular” tension. All of the above tips work in romance too!
You can craft  moments where the reader knows how the characters feel, but the characters themselves remain unaware. Or where the reader knows he likes the other boy, but the other boy has yet to realize it.
There could also be moments where the romantic encounters leads to danger or a loss of some kind (forbidden romances, anyone?), and so the stakes are really high if the characters are caught.
Or there’s always the unrequited love stories, which are all about one character wanting something the other person doesn’t (aka conflicting goals).
And just like regular tension, romantic tension is entirely dependent on building up to payoff. What the payoff might be is defined by the characters and the narrative. It might be the first kiss. It might be the first confession of feelings. It might be that final commitment to each other.
So for example, in the Witchlands, I have a slow burn romance, and the tension is all in the waiting. Waiting for a first kiss. Waiting for a confession. Waiting for even an acknowledgment to themselves that they have feelings at all.
And the way I build that tension is entirely through subtext. These two characters have no understanding of their own emotions (much less of other people’s), and nothing in their thoughts reflects an attraction.
But it’s there. It’s in the subtle actions – the stares that last just a little longer than they should. It’s in the decisions they make, the ones that confound even themselves (why am I helping her?). And it’s in the way they push each other to grow. Neither character is the same after spending time together.

The very, very delayed payoff is multiple fold: acknowledgment of feelings, confessions of feelings, commitment to each other, and maybe even (one day) a kiss.
Of course, if we look at The Executioners Three, I have Freddie and Theo making out within the first 100 pages. On the surface, it would seem like the payoff comes way too soon.
But the reality is that the payoff isn’t their first kiss. Or even their acknowledgment of feelings. In TE3, the payoff is finally being together publicly.
It’s a forbidden romance, see? The tension is all in the fact that they shouldn’t be making out in secret libraries or on top of cars. They’re from rival high schools, so Freddie (our heroine) is trying desperately to fight off her feelings…and then failing over and over again.
Which hey! That’s some serious conflict, right? She’s fighting her feelings (personal goals at war) and she’s trying not to get caught (danger on the horizon + goals that don’t align with friends’ + an imbalance in knowledge between she and her friends).


There are, no doubt, many other ways to craft tension. These were just the first examples that came to mind. And of course, these were the main elements at play in that amazing Spider Man: Homecoming scene.
But you tell me: what’s your favorite kind of conflict in a scene?

Upcoming Events:



Link Roundup:

Since I haven't been keeping up with other people's blogs lately (for obvious reason), I thought I'd just link to some other helpful posts of my OWN that I came across while making the above lists. Happy reading!

websitetwitterinstagram| pinterest facebook | tumblr | forward this issue

If you appreciate what I offer here, please consider buying me a coffee! My MailChimp expenses just jumped to $130 a month, so anything you can spare, I appreciate.

Or consider buying my books!

Copyright © 2018
Susan Dennard
All rights reserved.

110 West 40th St.
Suite 2201
New York, NY 10018

I'm a misfit, a daydreamer,
a fangirl, an animal-lover,
a feminist killjoy,
and a gluten-free
cookie-eater. 🐙
You're receiving this email because you subscribed on my website.
update your preferences | unsubscribe from this list | privacy policy