We talk a lot about plot in novels and not as much about tension.
But tension, even more than plot, is what keeps readers turning the page. Tension causes anticipation and joy and dread. It is inexorably linked to your characters’ hopes and fears. It worries the reader and gives him a sense of relief—and then worries him once again.
Tomorrow we’ll talk about tension throughout your entire novel, but for now, let's begin with a scene.
Identify a source of tension in your novel. It could be between two characters with opposing goals or conflicting ideas about what’s right. It could be a purely inner conflict. It could center around an uncertainty or a hope.
Now write, brainstorm, or revise a scene with that particular tension in mind. You could focus on making the tension build. You could play with the ebb and flow of it. You could even write the moment before the answer or outcome is revealed.
Note that this scene does not need to be a huge moment in order to carry tension. If wanting to get a certain job is a central part of your story, then you could write about an off shoot of that—the scene where your character looks for the right interview outfit, for example, or the call to set up a meeting. Keeping what’s at stake for your character in the forefront of your mind will help you sustain tension even in scenes where nothing monumental takes place.