- An introduction to your characters
- A situation, brought in early on, that creates a central conflict for the main character
- An escalation of tension – becoming more intimate and intense
- Rising stakes
- A moment at which everything seems lost
- A climactic encounter
- A satisfying conclusion
- A transformation of character and/or situation
The wildly popular The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein, is told from the perspective of the family dog, Enzo. It's the story of Denny, Enzo's owner, who marries and starts a family.
The conflict doesn't come in for several chapters but we get to know Enzo and his family. the author uses humour to engage the reader. It's entertaining and engaging even without any conflict, which is difficult to accomplish. When conflict does enter, it's with a vengeance... Denny's wife dies. Her parents decide they want custody of his beloved daughter and will do anything to make it happen, even lie about Denny.
I'd love to hear some of your favourite examples of great tension building stories and cliff hangers.