Using POV to create tension

by | Sep 12, 2014

Last Updated:
May 27, 2017


ll stories utilize tension, but each genre incorporates it differently. Stories, and the tension in them, are not the same. Epic fantasy, thrillers, and other action oriented novels rely on the tension built by ‘what will happen next!’ Other tales such as detective novels, suspense, and other cerebral story arcs rely on the tension built by tangling plots.

I hinted in a previous post on POV and character building that chapter POVs are a great way to develop tension. I like tight plots with clever characters, some of whom are possibly smarter than me! So even my epic fantasy series the Rise of the Fifth Order delves into the tension of dark intentions. Switching to a different character POV allows insight into building plots for villains or discovering if the heroes have if figured out yet. Or, even better, if everyone is a little wrong and chaos is about to ensue.

If enhancing plot tension through POVs proved a great technique when writing epic fantasy, working on my current WIP, the dark fantasy/dystopian tale Friends of my Enemy, really taught me how great a tool it can be.

Just like my epic fantasy has tension derived through more than action, my dystopian storyline contains more than plot threads knotting tighter and tighter as the reader waits for the first to snap. There is action, battles, and a bit of love (though of the possibly not-meant-to-be variety!). But the underlying core of dystopian is that merciless build to calamity.

I’ve touched on why I used multiple POVs before. So let’s jump that part. I simply do and prefer to. When I wrote the epic fantasy Rise of the Fifth Order Trilogy, choosing POV often came down to who was affected the most by the events in the chapter. Events, action, and the impacts of action move epic fantasy stories along. Tension is derived from fast paced adventure.

For Friends of my Enemy, to determine the POV of a chapter, I’ve found myself thinking about what a character knows, or thinks they know, instead of looking at the events unfolding and who is central to them like I do when writing epic fantasy. I ask myself if this is the chapter where a character learns the truth? Or where their misinformation will culminate into something dire? This technique moves the story forward with the best and most captivating narrative. And it builds tension!

These characters have egos. They don’t think they are right; they know it. Little machinations grow into beasts that are usually misaimed. Allowing the reader to reside alongside a character for a chapter, knowing how wrong the character is (or learning it in a later chapter) or being aware of what is coming for that character… well its been quite fun to write and I hope as much fun to experience.

And getting to the point where things unravel down to the very last thread… well to get there is due to a lot more than switching POVs. It takes plotting, good plotting. A solid idea with a tight plot is the first key to writing. Beautiful wording, careful editing, and fantastic writing techniques elevate a good idea to something riveting. Well, I that’s the hope anyway. 😉

So I have one more addition to my POV writing tricks. Careful use of multiple and clear POVs can help enhance character building with carefully chosen words, help connect a reader to a story, and can build tension. What else do you use POV for?




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Written by: Autumn

Autumn is a best selling indie author, conservationist, & world traveler with plans for many more adventures both real and fantastical! She is currently settled in the wilds of Maine with her small dragonish dog and husband, searching for a portal to another world.

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