Practicing Tension

Picture this. You are twenty-one years old, in England, on a charter bus with members of your college choir. The bus is parked on a dock, waiting to board the ferry to transport you to France. Everyone’s luggage has been stowed in a large wire “cage” that is sitting about thirty feet from the bus. You notice your own piece of luggage—a blue backpack—is on top. Something looks wrong. You lean closer to the bus window, and realize with alarm that the flap at the top has come untied and the contents are in danger of spilling out.


You dash off the bus, over to the cage and leap onto it—relieved there are spaces for hand and footholds. You start climbing. (By the way, you’re 5’1” and the cage is about 8 feet high.)  As you’re reaching for your backpack, a dock worker yells “Get down!”  Being twenty-one and a little insecure, you climb down. 


The dock worker turns away. Being twenty-one, panicked, and plucky (by gum) when the situation demands it, you climb back up. You hear cheering from the bus!  You drag your backpack closer and fumble with the ties. Your heart is pounding; your hands shaking. 


A moment later, back-up arrives in the form of two choir buddies, Liz and Emmanuel, who scale the cage like heroes. They pull the flap tight and tie an impressive knot. As you climb back down, laughing, more cheers erupt from the bus. You did it! The dock worker just scowls and mutters, “We would have fixed it.”



Need practice writing tension? Pick a dramatic scene from your life, write it down, and relive the emotions of it. I hadn’t thought about this experience in years, and now after writing it down, my heart is beating faster. 


When we consciously inform our writing with our life experiences, we add richness, depth, and emotional honesty. What story wouldn’t benefit from that?






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