Tension Graphs


Using a line graph can help you determine pace.

Tension graphs help us to see at a glance whether our novel engages the reader’s interest all the way through, or whether there are parts where their attention might flag. In literary novels, where you want your reader to stop and think rather than breathlessly turn the pages to find out what happens, this is less of a problem, but it’s an interesting exercise nevertheless.

First draw your horizontal axis, ideally to correspond with the number of ‘scenes’ in your novel, but certainly the number of chapters.


Then draw your vertical axis to represent rising tension, where 0 = no tension at all and 10 = the most climactic section.


Finally, plot the course of your novel, scene by scene or chapter by chapter, to show how the tension fluctuates.


Then you can see at a glance where the climaxes are and whether the novel is well paced. Too many ‘highs’ and you won’t leave your reader time to breathe, too many ‘lows’ and they’ll be nodding off.

It’s quite an interesting exercise to compare it to Freytag’s pyramid (see blog post of that name) to see how close it comes to the classical model.