Take a look at your timeline with your pivotal scenes mapped out.

Chances are, you still have quite a bit of blank space between those scenes. Or, if you’re working on a rewrite and do have much of the space filled in, some of the in-between scenes probably feel tangential or aimless or a little uninspired.

The antidote to these problems is tension.

Most novels will only have a few pivotal events and revelations, but a reader’s attention must be held throughout the story. You can achieve this by getting deep into the various sources of tension in your novel, and noticing the way each of them play out over your many scenes and pages.

We can identify the sources of tension in your novel using the classic literary conflicts:

Person vs. Person

Person vs. Society

Person vs. Nature

Person vs. Self

Person vs. Fate

Instead of choosing one, examine as many as apply, and if you feel that your novel is lacking in tension, think of how you could add layers of complexity in order to create it.

Let’s use Person vs. Person, for example. Look at all of your major characters in relation to your protagonist. By determining what each of them hope for and fear, you’ll be able to see how tension could be heightened. Search for nuances. Maybe both of your characters crave safety, but they have different definitions of what safety is, or different ideas about how to find it. The tension is heightened when their differences flare up and eased when they remember their common hope.

I’ll give you a second example, this time using Person vs. Nature. Even if your novel does not currently include conflicts with nature, you can consider using it as a source of heightened or eased tension. Nature is great at surprising us, and trapping us together, and thwarting plans. (So are machines: elevators, Ferris wheels, cars in need of repair, airplanes, trains, etc. Any emotional strain between characters holds a lot more tension if they also happen to be trapped in a confined space or stranded by the side of the road in a rainstorm.)

After brainstorming on all of these sources of tension and any more you can think of, consult your timeline again and go through what you’ve found for each, identifying moments where tensions will be high and moments when it will lessen. Finally, if conflicts will be resolved by the ending, note when that resolution will take place.