Skip to main content
Charlotte Writers' Club
About CWC
Calendar of Events
Speaker Guidelines
Member Resources
Contact CWC

Want to make a donation?
Click the button below.

Caroline Kenna, President welcomes members and gives a special welcome to NEW members.

David Collin, Co-Programming Chair introduces our speaker Kimmery Martin.

Kimmery Martin presented: 

Ten Specific Strategies To Increase Suspense and Tension

1. Up The Stakes
Not only is the crazed fentanyl addict threatening to kill the ER doc, but he’ll only let her go if she exchanges places with her best friend. If she doesn’t, he’ll blow up the entire building. Analyze the tensest scenes to see how you can make them worse: what is the most agonizing moral choice the protagonist must make?

2. Add Complications and Obstacles

Now is the time for Murphy’s Law. What could possibly make this situation worse?

3.Take It Down A Notch

Whoa there, cowgirl. Every single scene cannot escalate. Your reader needs time to process all this mayhem, and you need to drag out the suspense, so it’s okay to juxtapose tense scenes with calmer moments.

4.   Utilize Subplots

Incorporate smaller plot lines with their own mini-dramas and questions to answer. This keeps your reader engaged while waiting for the big payoff.

5.   Use Plot Twists To Your Advantage

Midway through, it is revealed the doctor knows her attacker: it’s a former friend who came to her earlier with a pressing medical problem, but vanished before receiving his diagnosis.

6.   Incorporate Tension On Both A Macro and Micro Level

Structure your paragraphs and even sentences to keep a reader engaged. The doctor knows her patient’s diagnosis is a death sentence, but she doesn’t reveal that in the first few words when they finally discuss it; instead she draws it out, talking about the work-up and the symptoms first.

Micro-tension also comes into play when there is disagreement between any two characters, concealed emotion or overt displays of uncomfortable emotion, power struggles, ego clashes, or unrealized small goals.

Pay attention to words you can cut and ways to tighten your sentences.

7.   Foreshadowing

Incorporate omens, body language, scene descriptions, and behavior as tone. You can also use symbolic language to indicate something is going to happen or allow the characters and/or narrator to overtly tell the reader what is coming.

8.   Structure The Ending Of Scenes and Chapters To Maximize Anticipation

End on a cliffhanger, or a big plot twist, or a sudden reversal of expectations.

9.   Analyze Scenes For Tension Inducing Details

Can you change the setting to a more ominous or unpredictable place? What about the weather? Does the protagonist have a phobia? Did something bad happen in this spot before? What is the greater backdrop? War? A Cultural Shift? Religious Persecution?

10.  Just When everything Seems Fine…

Give your hero a false sense of security and then blow it up. Have her come to the wrong conclusion or fall into a trap. (She thinks the hostage-taker is unconscious from the Xanax she crushed into his drink, but unbeknownst to her, he switched their cups…)

Angela Heigler, Co-Programming Chair, moderates questions from our members.

Some of the questions:

What is a research dump? 

Need to do extensive research learned in order to write your novel.  However, it is not necessary to explain to much of what you learned.  Summarize the information. 

What do you think about resolving questions one at a time. If, for example, there is a love duo and the inevitable "Will they get together?" question, does it make sense to resolve that to focus the reader's attention on, say, the really big question "Will they survive?"

Establish early on what is the most compelling question or problem to be solved.  That question you postpone the answer to the end.

If you are someone who doesn't plan -  do you start with the big question or do you let your characters tell you what it is?

You do want to know a few things up front.  Who is your protagonist and what is the main obstacle they have to overcome.

Stuggles to get published?

Queried well over 100 agents before getting any interest.  Didn't have those main questions posed in my query.  Rewrote query that posed the main question to be answered in my novel.

If you could give only 1 tip for writing fiction, what would that be? (that you haven't already covered)

You must be a reader to be a writer.

 The Queen of Hearts moves back and forth between two narrators, Zadie and Emma. Did it start out that way or was that a revision that came somewhere down the road?

It started with all the chapters and scenes for the character in the past first.  Then later decided to intersperse the present and past.


Darrell Horwitz, Co-Contest Chair reviews Nonfiction Contest judge Judy Goldman's credentials and announces the 1st, 2nd, 3rd place winners and honorable mentions. 

FIRST PLACE –  A Handful of Minutes by Nancy Zupanec

This is an absorbing and richly satisfying piece of writing. It is full of tension, pulling the reader along, giving rise to a true page-turner. Beautifully written – you really feel that you’re in capable hands here. I especially admired the open-endedness of the final sentences, how the concrete descriptive detail in the final paragraph reflects the uncertainties in life.


SECOND PLACE –  Playback Can Be a Bitch by Paul Carr

Such a voice of authority here -- the author of this essay tells his story with a sure hand. It’s a complicated story (because of the technical information), but with the writer’s attention to detail, the narrative is clear and straightforward and compelling. The reader is right there, in the cockpit, experiencing the tension and yes, the humor that is also part of this story. Well-done!

THIRD PLACE –  A Critic’s Choice by Martin Settle

The momentum here is what I want to point out, how the writer handles pacing, how this essay begins with imaginative descriptive details, then moves right along, introducing us to characters we care about. Oh yes, and the humor – cleverly used throughout. Like the moon in this essay, the story has a dark side and a dark sense of humor. That smirking moon!

FIRST HONORABLE MENTION –  On the Edge by Patricia Joslin

This essay is full of heart! I thought the writer was quite creative in telling a fluid story just by introducing us to people we care deeply about. There is lovely rhythm in the language. An essay that is unsettling and uplifting, both at the same time.

SECOND HONORABLE MENTION –  Winged Victory by Lynn Gorski

This tale of bravery is powerfully written. You feel love in every line. Because of the writer’s skill, we not only learn important lessons; we also grow to care deeply about the author’s dad.

THIRD HONORABLE MENTION –  Sports Teams by Douglas Croft

I fell in love with the way the writer uses repetition in this piece. The strategy deepens the humor throughout and makes the essay wonderfully cohesive.  The tone is conversational, the writing crisp -- right up to the final “I am so sorry”!

Martin Settle reads from his 3rd place entry, A Critic's Choice.

Paul Carr reads from his 2nd place entry, Playback Can Be a Bitch.

Nancy Zupanec reads from her 1st place entry, A Handful of Minutes.

Comments from Nonfiction Contest judge, Judy Goldman:

'First, I have to say you guys gave me a nearly impossible task!!! There were so many stellar essays in this batch – I shuffled and re-shuffled them, agonizing over my decisions, excited to observe such amazing talent among the writers. I had to read each entry multiple times. But, as I read, the winners began to emerge.'  - Judy Goldman

Judy's comments for the winners are above.

Judy's comments for other entries

See 20/20 (A Personal Viewpoint) by Robin Hurdle
I admired sentences like this one:  “Regardless of what is being said we will only hear it in the one voice we understand.” Wise words.

The Most Expensive Perfume in the World by Sarah Proctor
Tender and gentle story. I loved the way memories flow from a perfume!

Dad-blame it by Stephon Bishop
I laughed out loud while I was reading this well-written, witty essay!

Oh, Hello, Mr. Rebound by Tara Marshall
I loved the light tone in this essay. Very fast-paced.

Trust by Lilia Klee
Very original. An essay about a Gannet. But about much more.

Another Close-up by Cynthia Lewis
“I’d reached the place where neither of us had any respect left for me.” That sentence illustrates how raw and honest this essay is.

Kid Sister Reinvented by Janice Luckey
Haunting story about sibling love and trust.

Coping with Chemistry by Sarah Parisi
This writer turned an academic challenge into a very interesting story.

Pieces Apart by Elizabeth Bennett
Very charming story. Much tenderness here.

Charlotte Writers Club

Sign Up for our Email Newsletter

Charlotte Writers Club
P.O. Box 220954 | Charlotte, NC 28222-0954 |
If you have a question or concern about this website, please contact the Webmaster (
2006-2021 © All rights reserved.