Writing Tip 11 is a little more complicated than the others, but it’s really quite cool. It’s simply this: the greatest key to effective writing is tension seeks resolution.

You don’t want to write stories where your readers can easily guess or know what’s going to happen. “Tension seeks resolution” is like a rubber band stretching and stretching—the reader should be thinking, “What’s going to happen? Oh no! Will they survive? Ah, they made it there safely.” That’s what engages us in writing. Tension creates that sense of interestingness. Your reader wants to keep reading.

So when you understand that humans work this way, that we’re structured for it, it’s a great help. This is true from jokes to stories, to movies, to speeches, etc. If I say “Knock, knock,” something wells up in you to reply, “Who’s there?” I might say, “Police,” and you’ll ask, “Police who?” and we’re engaged in this question-answer back and forth. I would end the joke with, “Police use ‘tension seeks resolution’ in your writing.” That’s the idea. You just want to set up tension, set up questions in your story, and not tell us the answers too quickly. Hint to the reader where you’re headed, and then slowly get us there. Don’t make it happen all at once; create the tension of where your story is going. Where am I? What’s going to happen? What, and then what, and then what, and then what, and then we made it. The story resolves. That makes writing really effective.

-Dr. Fred Ray Lybrand
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