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Tightening Tension In A Gripping Narrative

Tightening tension scenes in narratives build suspense – and of course, tension. There’s a play of figurative language, sensory devices, and writing techniques that all contribute to the overall effect.

Let’s answer these questions to better understand this effective writing technique.

  • What does tightening tension mean?
  • What is Pebble Rock Boulder Writing?
  • How do you tighten the tension in a story?
  • What are some tightening tension examples?

What does tightening tension mean?

I bet you’ve read a thriller novel where the drama is heightened, details are juicy, and the suspense is too much to bear.

So much so, that you want to just skip to the end of the chapter or book. Perhaps you’ve done that too.

This suspenseful state of events where you just want to know more, be it about the character, the circumstances, or the outcome, is the tightening tension scene in a narrative plot.

It’s a clever writing technique deliberately created by the author.

On a story map, the events that make up the tightening tension scene come just before the climax, which lies at the peak of the map.

the plot in a narrative

What is Pebble Rock Boulder writing?

One way to think about the events that make a tightening tension scene is to use the stone analogy: pebble, rock, boulder.

The pebble is the small event that triggers the next two events. On a story map, it comes after the inciting incident.

pebble rock boulder narrative writing

The boulder is the next suspenseful event that builds upon the pebble event.

And the Rock is the event of utmost suspense that leads right up to the climax, the moment of change.

As you can see, each event builds upon the other to create suspense and tension.

This is the tightening tension scene in the Rising Action that is also known as Pebble Rock Boulder Writing.

tightening tension narrative writing

How do you tighten the tension in a story?

Adding descriptive details in a narrative is known to slow down the pace. To build tension in a scene, it does well to adhere to this writing technique.

Using a figurative language graphic organizer helps students with recalling descriptive details when writing their narratives.

narrative writing figurative language devices

Remember the stone analogy (pebble, rock, boulder) to mark the three main events in a narrative? Sensory details need to be woven into these events to create tension and suspense to a rising crescendo.

descriptive details sensory language narrative writing

To ensure my students include these three events that build suspense, I like to give them a narrative story map.

Each event is recorded as a bullet point. This story map also becomes a point of reference for students when they write their own tightening tension scenes.

narrative writing story map pebble rock boulder

What are some tightening tension examples?

Planning before writing a narrative is vital. The story map helps students to quickly record an outline of the story.

  • Who are the characters?
  • What is the setting?
  • What is the inciting incident and problem?
  • How is the problem solved?

In ‘Water, Water Everywhere‘, I have created a tension scene revolving around the mundane job of mowing a lawn.

This is so that my students can see how I transform this otherwise boring account into a series of events building in intensity and suspense.

The pebble, rock, and boulder revolve around the main and only character busting the water pipe.

narrative writing techniques elements of a plot

Free Writing Reference Tool

Other than the narrative story map, a collection of posters featuring the elements of the plot is a useful reference tool when students are writing their tightening tension scenes.

For instance, if they are not sure what to include in the rising action, then they can easily refer to the Rising Action Poster.

Why not display these Elements of a Plot Narrative Posters in your classroom to help your students as they write their tightening tension narrative scenes too?

Click on the link above or on the image to access them.

elements of a plot narrative posters

Shop the Post

Are you looking for an entire unit on teaching your students how to write a tightening tension scene in a narrative?

This resource will help your students write a narrative’s exposition and the pebble, rock, and boulder in the rising action scene.

This writing unit is included in the big growing bundle of writing resources that teach the narrative, persuasive and informational writing genres.

Need further reading? Read how to ban the boring and teach writing that’s interesting!

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Tightening tension scenes in narratives build suspense - and of course, tension. There's a play of figurative language, sensory devices, and writing techniques that all contribute to the overall effect.
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