Posted by: Kathy Temean | July 20, 2015

Tension With A Tease & Reminder


Summary of agent Alex Slater’s suggestions for writers.

By Gayle C. Krause

At the NJSCBWI conference last week, agent Alex Slater from the Trident Media Group, led a seminar titled, More Than the Hook: Building Tension Throughout Your Manuscript at the NJSCBWI conference in June.

To grab an agent’s attention, you must have a creative hook. 

Alex defined this well-known query technique as “two to three sentences in the writer’s query that unlocks a new part of the mind.” That being said, the writer must develop a unique hook. But most queries suffer from rote formulas and therefore the tension or emotional connection isn’t strong enough.

Alex also stated that when preparing a manuscript for submission, “a writer should treat each act as a separate story. In other words, Act I-II, and III should be strong enough to stand alone.” 


A way to do that is to “let stories create themselves. In order to write a compelling story, a writer MUST create tension. Alex discussed ways to do that:

  1. Say “NO” to your characters to create an immediate conflict.
  2. Plant seeds of information rather than painting full pictures.
  3. If you make bad things happen to your character, make it worse.
  4. Always end chapters with cliffhangers.
  5. Be succinct in your writing.
  6. Reveal more to the readers than to the characters.
  7. Allow characters to face consequences.
  8. Don’t outline your story. Let characters reveal their desires.
  9. Kill characters if they become boring.
  10. Let your characters act first—explain later.
  11. Give the characters phobias or play on their fears.
  12. Hurt a main character.
  13. Raise the stakes.
  14. Let characters make powerful choices. 


  1. The characters MUST face transformation.
  2. Provide empathy so the reader worries about the characters.
  3. Write economically and trust the readers to follow the story.
  4. Perfect people are boring . . . Horror is beheading! Suspense is guillotine!
  5. Make promises, raise the stakes, and keep the clock ticking.

Alex inspired me to trim my current manuscript and listen to my characters. In fact, my MG protagonist wrote his own query two nights ago. I just changed the POV from 1st to 3rd and the query is much stronger. Now, to submit it to the world!

Keep your ears open. Maybe your character’s voice will inspire you to follow Alex’s suggestions, too. 

rat girlGayle C. Krause is a published children’s author. Her picture book, ROCK STAR SANTA, is available from Scholastic Book Clubs and her YA novel, RATGIRL: Song of the Viper is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Website: Blog:

Thank you Gayle for sharing this information with everyone. I am sure it will help a lot of people who missed Alex’s workshop.

REMINDER: You have until the end of the day to leave a comment, provide a link on Facebook, reblog or twitter about last weeks post about Dianne Ochiltree’s new book, IT’S A SEASHELL DAY and enter the book give-away. Here is the link:

Talk tomorrow,



  1. excellent post. Thanks!


  2. All excellent points! Thanks for sharing.


  3. Thanks for sharing, Gayle, great information.


  4. You are all very welcome. Alex gave an inspiring talk.


  5. Great review! I appreciate the “Must create tension” list and wrap-up.


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