Tension builds. Like a spring or elastic band being stretched tight, writers build energy in a story or poem. Something bad is going to happen…any…minute… now.

This is also called ‘suspense’. Writers create a suspenseful atmosphere – as if you’re being dangled, suspended over the edge of a cliff, clinging by your fingertips.

They slow down the pace of the story and make you wait. They create a sense of danger – an ominous, foreboding mood that something bad is going to happen. They may use cliffhangers, or eerie, disturbing ideas. They may create a dark mood.

In ‘Wind’, Ted Hughes uses literal images of tension:
  • ‘the guyrope strained’
  • ‘we grip’
  • ‘the note that any second would shatter it’
In ‘Sonnet 116’, Shakespeare builds tension with images of:
  • ‘admit impediments’ (problems)
  • ‘tempests’ and ‘shaken’
  • ‘edge of doom’
In ‘Pike’ by Ted Hughes, there’s a lovely mixture of horror and slow-building tension:

  • ‘killers from the egg: the malevolent aged grin’
  • ‘horror’
  • ‘they spare nobody’
  • ‘dead’
  • ‘I dared not’
  • ‘the hair frozen on my head’
  • ‘still splashes on the dark pond’
  • ‘rose slowly toward me’

Find out more about how writers create tension and suspense in prose, here.