Writing, Tension, and Dead Bodies

Tension fish blenderHave you ever been tense? Stressed out? In limbo between one choice and another? Good. Then you have what it takes to be a writer. Writing is about tension. We all know that life has an abundance of inherent tension. The writer’s job is to draw out the tension and elevate it to heightened levels.

As a matter of fact, I’m tense right now.

Waiting…Hoping… Restless. Anxious. Agitated.


Because I’m at an “in-between” place in my writing. A few weeks ago I attended the fantastic DFW Writer’s Conference. Three solid days of networking with authors, agents, editors, and writers of all levels. To be honest, it got me so pumped up that I’m just now starting to come down. This may sound crazy, but if you were there… then you understand what I mean. This was my third year attending DFWCon, and it was the most inspiring yet.

Oh yeah. Back to the tension.

So at DFWCon, I pitched my novel to several agents and an editor. Actually, I pitched to anyone who would listen. Then I sent out queries with the requested partials, full manuscript, and/or synopsis. Now I’m waiting. But then again, “waiting” isn’t really the best word for it.


That’s the word.

An uncomfortable place between one point and the other. Taut. Stretched. Precarious.

To cope, I’m writing and researching the next book in the series. Editing for Henery PressGetting in trouble with friends and family. Writing some more. Also, I’m chain-eating candy. Guzzling coffee. And so on.

I imagine many of my fellow DFWCon writers are in the same boat. It was all fun and games at DFWCon, a band of literary world-changers linked arm-in-arm with our pens and notepads. But now we’re back to the reality of the writer’s life in the slow-moving publishing industry—one person against the clock and a blank page. So to pass the time, I’ve compiled a few inspirational quotes from what I learned at DFWCon, especially related to tension in writing.

Les Edgerton, author of HOOKED: “Today’s novel has to start when the trouble begins. Not before.”

Don Maass, author of THE FIRE IN FICTION: “When we say what needs to be said, when we share our deepest most painful truths, we open up to our readers and they will connect.”

DFWCon Forensic Panel, The Science of Crime: “With a decomposed body, look for bugs in odd places. You normally get bugs near moisture. The eyes. The mouth, etc. Bugs in odd places are a clue.” (Not sure about you, but for me this statement does a GREAT job of establishing tension.)

Finally, a simple but relevant quote from bestselling author Jonathan Maberry: “Writing is art. Publishing is a business. The quicker you get that, the happier you’ll be.”


And the tension?

Pour it into your writing. Raise the stakes. Remove backstory. Look for bugs in odd places.

The writing life might be tense, but it is NEVER boring.

4 thoughts on “Writing, Tension, and Dead Bodies

  1. Elmore Leonard said that the greatest compliment he ever received came from a man that read one or two books per year. The man said, “I started the book one evening and then stayed up all night to read it. I had to know what was on the next page.”

    Great article as usual. Thanks.


    1. Thank you Larry. And yes, it is wonderful when people who don’t read much find a book to enjoy (and even more wonderful, in Leonard’s case, to have it be his!)


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