I’m currently in my third edit of my novel and focusing on particular scenes.

One particular scene I am happy with the beats and the structure, but I am struggling to capture the tension and the moment through my writing. It’s one of the most important scenes so I really want to get this right

I think it comes down to a lack of my “voice” or “style” in the scene, where I dislike everything I write because my prose sounds clunky and doesn’t capture the moment.

Can anyone recommend any good books that cover this?

Sorry if this isn’t the right place to ask (first time on the writing exchange).

EDITED TO ADD - the scene is essentially the turning point of act 1, where my protagonist reveals a secret that has dire consequences for his best friend, where the protagonist has betrayed him for many years (protagonist believes he was doing it with the best of intentions).

The scene is supposed to be full of tension and conflict but even the conflict I write is coming across as boring and clunky prose.

Thanks in advance.

  • Welcome to Writing.SE! This is the right place to ask, but I'm not sure I understand exactly what you're asking. "lack of voice" is a bit ambiguous, at least for me. Could you be a bit more specific? Perhaps give a small sample (no longer than a paragraph) and what you're struggling with in it? Commented Nov 21, 2018 at 22:41
  • 1
    Thanks for replying, I guess it is pretty ambiguous but I think I’m struggling to articulate the exact issue. Unfortunately not able to post a sample as currently do not have my laptop on me but I will try and expand on the issues I seem to face. Everything I write, while grammatically correct does not excite me as the reader for the particular scene, I can’t seem to capture the tension and stress that is involved in that. No matter what words I put down, they come across as boring and flat, although with other scenes I haven’t had the same issue. Commented Nov 21, 2018 at 22:45
  • I would advise to visually watch the scene. It could be picturing it in your mind, watching it on TV, or travelling to that destination to watch something similar (in a theatre, watching a play). Then take a pen and paper, and write down what you see. Commented Nov 23, 2018 at 1:53
  • Does the reader know the secret ahead of time? Have you tried having the friend figure it out, instead of the MC telling it? If we identify with the MC and know the secret, and want it to remain hidden, then having the friend sort it out and accuse the MC might give you the tension you need. In terms of recommendations... What craft books have you read that you like? That can get us started in suggesting other books you might like.
    – SFWriter
    Commented Nov 23, 2018 at 18:30

4 Answers 4


It sounds like you've got a few things going on here, so I'm going to try to give you a few bits of advice that hopefully cover most of what you're asking.

  1. Lack of confidence

You say your prose sounds clunky, boring and doesn't capture the moment. Perhaps this is true, perhaps it isn't. I would highly recommend joining some kind of writing group. My preference is to find an 'in-person' one, where you actually meet face to face to give critique on each others work. You can often find these on the meetup website, some of them have their own websites, or you could ask at your local library.

The benefit of this will be manyfold. You will get genuine feedback about your writing (not friends and family who just tell you it's great) and genuine advice on how to improve. You will see what level your peers are at, and get a sense on whether your writing is working for readers or not. Hopefully, it will give you more confidence in your writing.

I realise that getting solitary writers to go out and share their work with strangers is a big ask, but if you can do it it will be worth a hundred books.

Or, if you really don't wan tto go outside, you can try an online critique group, such as https://www.scribophile.com/

  1. Building tension

Annoyingly, my experience is that 90% of the thousands of books about writing out there all deal with the same high level stuff (such as overall structure, how to build a character, how to avoid using adverbs), and it's quite difficult to find good books that actually deal with the nitty gritty of things like how to build tension, how to reveal salient details, how to drip feed a character's backstory - in the kind of practical, detailed way that I would like to see. So sadly, I don't recommend a book for that.

(If anyone out there does know of good books which do offer more practical detailed advice for already experienced writers, please say in the comments!)

My general advice is:

Use a time countdown. Build tension by having a strict deadline by which something terrible is going to happen, and refer to the time going down in increasingly short intervals to increase the tension more and more. You can see an example of this here: https://www.fabulaargentea.com/index.php/article/pray-on-the-weak-by-katja-l-kaine/

Analyse a real life example Find a scene in a book that you found really tense, photocopy out the pages and annotate it to death. Pay attention to what the author did to build tension, notice what techniques they use. Then try to emulate (not copy) that.

Show the tension through the physical If a character is about to reveal something important and potentially destructive, how do they feel about it inside? Try to suck the reader into the physical sensation of anxiety and nerves.

The action reaction cycle Finally, I find the action reaction cycle a useful way to ensure a scene has pace and naturally grips the reader. You can read about that here (disclosure, this is my site): https://www.novel-software.com/blog?article=the-action-reaction-cycle

I hope some of that is helpful!


Strunk and White - The Elements of Style.

Master that and everything else becomes orders of magnitude easier.

That book, all on its own, will improve your confidence and competence.

Next, find a critique group for your genre, something like http://critters.org for Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror writers. Critique groups are great, but have one major flaw - people go there to get their own stuff critiqued. Yeah, that's nice, but it's a very minor part of the value of the services - what really helps is reading other people's work, and critiquing it. You will sharpen your tools best on those who ask for it, lol

Here's a template - http://critters.org/c/outline.hodges.txt Try walking through it and actually writing out a blunt, frank critique of some of your own shorter bits for practice. It's a great exercise for perspective.

Then lastly, READ, READ, READ. Get the typical structures and cadences of authors you admire in your genre in your head. GIGO, so don't read bad writing unless it's to actively critique it, even if it's a guilty pleasure. Devour the classics of your chosen genre and emulate them.

Then you will begin to notice that the unique bits of your own style will begin to sort to the surface, and you'll recognize them, and can consciously work on guiding them toward better habits.


i struggled finding my voice early on as a writer, so i did a lot of reading of many authors across a diverse selection of genres. some authors that heavily impacted and influenced my own voice were tahereh mafi, tommy wallach, e. lockhart, and patrick ness. mafi and ness are masters of flow and prose, so i would check out their work first. ness and lockhart also write a lot of action and drama into their stories, so examining how they build tense scenes could also help!


Read what you want to write, there are any number of technical books on writing fiction but I've never found one that did a fraction as much for my technique as reading writers who write what I want to write, the way I want to write it. The scene you're struggling with would appear to be a "reveal", hit TV Tropes for a list of works that use The Reveal well. Read/watch the parts that do what you want to do, find one or two that do it roughly the way you want to and reread/rewatch them until you understand the elements and order that you need. Once you have the scene formula it's a matter of writing your story using it and tweaking and editing it until it works just right, there is no shortcut there unfortunately.

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