We’ve discussed creating tension at a big-picture level many times. However, it’s not enough to have a big-picture plan; tension must also be brought out in the narration.
- What is the problem? Your protagonist needs to face a nontrivial problem. If you’ve got one, you’re ready to go. If not, you’d better think about that.
- What bad things could happen as a result? This tells the audience why they should care whether or not the protagonist succeeds in dealing with the issue. It’s often referred to as the stakes of the conflict.
- Why will it be tough to avoid those bad things? Tension is created by a feeling of uncertainty about avoiding consequences. That means fixing the problem can’t look like a walk in the park.
- Why must the protagonist act soon? Problems require some level of urgency to create tension, but depending on the problem, you might not need to add anything extra for this.