Our topic for this month is how we develop tension in our writing. The elements of a good story, which apply to any genre, are
· A character (hero/heroine, antagonist/protagonist), in a world (setting), with a conflict, goes through a dramatic arc, from a beginning, through a series of rising actions, to a climax and resolution, with some change in the character.
Without a conflict, a story would be flat and likely boring to read, like a single piece of string. As it is, it’s just a piece of string. Add a series of knots in it, and the picture changes. Why is a knot here and not there? What is the reason for the knots? The series of rising actions are like those knots. They are incidents that create both the pace and the tension of a story. Think of it this way. Like an elastic band being wound up, the rising actions in a story show tension. Stephen King is a master of creating tension. This quote is from my favourite King novel, Salem’s Lot.
Still, there was no sleep for him. Faces lurked in the shadows, swirling up at him like faces obscured in snow, and when the wind blew an overhanging tree limb against the roof, he jumped.
Conflict is an outright confrontation; the elastic band snapping could result in two armies fighting or two people arguing, like the characters in my upcoming contemporary western romantic suspense, Legacy of Love.
Callie drew herself up to her full height, hands fisted on her hips. “Tell me this. When you look at me, what do you see?”
Under her steady glare, Colt’s eyes narrowed. “Now there’s a loaded question,” he said. “Is this Read a Woman’s Mind 101?”
“Be honest. I promise I won’t fire you.”
He leaned back against the corral fence, his arms across his chest, his hands tucked under his armpits. He stared at his boots and, when he looked up, Callie almost took a step back from his piercing ice-blue gaze.
“What I see right now is a woman spoiling for a fight.” She watched the bob of his Adam’s apple as he swallowed. “So how about we turn that around, huh? What do you see when you look at me? Be honest. I promise I won’t quit.”
“You are impossible,” she hissed.
As a writer, you sometimes have to be sadistic in creating conflict. Hit the character where he’s most vulnerable. If a child is floundering in a swimming pool, have someone scared of water, not an Olympic class swimmer, jump in to effect a rescue. Your rescuer could be standing on the side of the pool, frantically reviewing all the reasons why he is scared of water before taking the plunge. That raises the tension in the scene.
Now you have some idea of what tension is, let’s move on to how I create it. I start as many authors do with determining what my main characters want. Next, why do they want it? What is their most significant problem in getting this? What is their ultimate goal? Who or what is preventing them from getting what they want? I have used plural determiners because I write romance in which there are always two characters to consider. My method is to work on an Excel spreadsheet. I have columns for both my characters and run lists below each, similar to writing down pros and cons. What do they each like/dislike? What are their fundamental values? It sometimes takes several questions before I begin to see where the tensions are likely to lie, and I know what can go wrong between my lovers. Who can be hurt the most from those tensions? The push-pull between the two, one denying the other or their own emotions, is the build-up to the story’s climax.
And now I’ve offered my take on the topic, visit these fine authors for their thoughts and methods.
Marci Baun http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/
Dr. Bob Rich https://wp.me/p3Xihq-2fU
Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/
Diane Bator http://dbator.blogspot.ca/
Rhobin L Courtright http://www.rhobincourtright.com