Imagine you go into a restaurant, and as you sit at the table, they first hand you a dessert. 5 minutes later, the waiter gets you the main course, and just when things can’t get any weirder, the waiter gets you soup. Sounds absurd, doesn’t it?

You would probably never visit this restaurant again. When we visit a restaurant, we want food in a proper sequence. Chronology is very important for our experience.

When it comes to storytelling, though, merely using chronology makes our stories boring. When we sequentially reveal events one after the other, our stories put the reader to sleep.

In this article, we will discuss a component that makes your stories boring, how tension is a critical element to make that story interesting, and then one simple way to introduce tension. 


  1. What makes a story boring

Ever had a friend tell you about their trip, which just went like this?

“And then we landed at the Charles de Gaulle Airport. And then we immediately went to see the Eiffel Tower. After which, we went to see the Louvre museum.”

You are nodding politely but dying of boredom on the inside.

The problem? It’s all in a straight line – event after event, no surprises. That kind of story feels flat and just doesn’t grab you.


The problem lies in ‘And… Then’

According to the writers of South Park, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, If a story has a repetitive pattern of ‘And… Then’, it becomes boring. ‘And Then’ conveys a series of events one after the other. 

This happened.

And then this happened.

And then that happened.

It’s flat. It’s uninteresting. 

These stories fail to capture and hold the user’s attention. If “And…Then” is a problem, then what is the antidote?

The missing element is tension.


  1. What is Tension?

Tension is the same emotion you felt after watching an episode of Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad. There is a reason that these episodes end on a cliffhanger – they want to leave you wanting more. Tension is the restlessness of not knowing. It’s the feeling of being dissatisfied.

Tension is like gold for storytellers. It makes their stories irresistible, keeping readers hanging on to every word.


Here’s an example of creating tension

Every morning, I wake up and drink from my favorite mug that says, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

How did you feel when I said that to you? Nothing, right? It’s flat. There is no tension.


Consider this alternative

“Every day, I wake up in the morning and go to my kitchen. On my mug, there is a quote from one of my heroes. This quote gives me tremendous energy and just sets up my day. It inspires me.”

I will take a pause here. See what is happening?

Your mind is screaming – “Which inspiring quote? I want to know it, too!!!”

Now that we know what tension looks and feels like, how do we create it? 


  1. The ‘But… Therefore’ method

According to the writers of South Park, “But… Therefore” creates tension. The word “But” has a certain effect, which is very different from the effect that “And” has. 

‘And’ is like driving in a straight line. 

I went to the office and had coffee.

Straightforward, right? Just a regular day. Now, throw in a ‘But’. 

I went to the office but grabbed a coffee instead of jumping into work.

Bam! Suddenly, there’s a twist. You weren’t expecting that, were you? 

Just adding ‘But’ shakes things up. It’s like taking a sudden turn when you were expecting to keep going straight. 

When we string together a bunch of ‘But… Therefore’ we’re not just telling a story. We’re taking our audience on a roller coaster ride. Let me show you what I mean with two stories. One story is straight-line “And… then” and the other has the “But…Therefore” spice.

And then… Story

I had a headache and so I went out to have an Americano. And then, I decided to go to the pharmacy to buy a tablet. After that, I got a cab home, took the medicine, and the headache disappeared.

Now compare the above story with this story, which uses “But… Therefore” in it. 

‘But therefore’ story

I went to the market to buy an Americano, but the Starbucks was closed. I decided to go to another cafe a little far away. But as I went there, I realized that I had forgotten my wallet at home. I had no option but to take a cab and come home. 

Note that in the second story, I don’t always use the words “But” and “Therefore,” but they still create the same effect. 


Stories get boring when you add one event after another when you convey events chronologically. When the stories are told in the “And…Then” format, they are boring because they convey one event after another. Tension is what makes a story captivating. Using “But…Therefore” adds tension to the story. 

Your reader doesn’t want to consume the “And…Then” story. Just like he doesn’t want to consume desserts before soup. 


What next?

If your messaging is not resonating with your audience, here’s an article you should read right away.