Fake tension vs. real tension

Bad newspapers lead with fake tension.
Great newspapers lead with real tension.
What’s the difference?

Fake tension is created by holding information back.
Real tension is created by the information itself.

Here’s an example:

A. Scientists made a sensational discovery. Click to learn why space as we know it is about to change.

B. Scientists were able to create a wormhole in the lab. Read on to learn the story behind the discovery.

The first version doesn’t tell me what’s so sensational. I’ll have to click to find out. Most of the time, I’ll be disappointed because, well, wormholes aren’t the usual reveal. More often than not, what the writer called sensational, turns out to actually be lame to me.

The second version does tell me what’s sensational. The crucial difference, though, is that it trusts the reader to judge this. It doesn’t pretend to know better than me what I find sensational. It trusts me with that decision.

The problem with fake tension is that it easily becomes addictive for the writer. Because it works. At least for a while. People do click to find out. Which makes it appear as though the readers appreciate that kind of writing.

Real tension, however, is a lot harder to create. Because it requires empathy. What is it that my readers are actually interested in?

But when you consistently figure that out, not only do you get rid of fake tension. But because you deliver on your promise of real tension, you create trusted long-term relationships.

So, what do your customers actually find sensational? What creates real tension for them?

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Dr. Michael Gerharz

Dr. Michael Gerharz

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