Turning up the Heat--Jan Blazanin

If there ever was a summer to talk about heat, this is the one. Here in Iowa we’ve had record heat, record drought, and near-record bitching about the weather. (I’m going for the gold in that category!) For those of us who love cool, rainy days, this summer has been the worst in memory.

However, authors know that story heat is an absolute necessity. As I see it, in YA novels, heat comes in three categories:

 Weather—Several years ago, I was lucky to hear beloved author Sid Fleischman speak at a writing conference. One piece of advice he gave was to “give the weather report” in our stories. Weather affects everyone, and our characters are no exception. Extreme heat makes us sweaty and cranky; extreme cold makes our fingers stiff and freezes our nose hairs. And a beautiful, sunny day in contrast to a character’s black mood accentuates her depression.

      Romance—There’s nothing like romantic attraction to add heat to a story.  Unrequited love, suspicion, jealousy, rivalry, and steamy physical contact ignite sparks that keep readers flipping pages.

     Tension—Plot tension is the ultimate form of heat, and authors know they need to have it in every line. Here are some ways to create plot tension:

Raise the stakes—Give the main character a compelling reason to meet her goal.
Increase the pressure—Make the consequences of failure unbearable for your main character.
  Double the conflict—Add internal conflict to the external forces working against her. Let her angst over whether or not she’s making the right choices.
  Force the circumstances—Drop your character into an unusual or uncomfortable setting and watch her squirm.
  Set a deadline—The shorter the amount of time she has to reach her goal, the higher the tension.

             Heat. Love it or hate it. But in YA fiction you’ve got to have it.


  1. Love this breakdown of the different types of heat! You're right: compelling stories have to be full of it. Off to figure out how to add more heat to my WIP... :-)

  2. Good advice. Why is it that keeping the heat turned up is one of the things for a writer to do? At least this writer.

    1. Sharelle, I think it's easier to turn up the heat in action/adventure novels than in those with more subtle tension. Then you have to be careful to show emotion without tipping over the edge to melodrama.

  3. LOVE your suggestions for creating plot tension, Jan!

  4. Thanks, Holly! Trying to apply those techniques to my own work-in-progress.


Post a Comment