Can you Feel the Tension?
Authors strive to put tension on every page. Can you feel it?
Don’t always expect gut-wrenching tension. Certainly we put in some of that even in ballet stories. Instead look for the little moments where a character paces, stresses or pouts. You’ll also see it when unexpected mail arrives, someone doubts a character’s motive or when the car won’t start on the first try. The question is why do author’s place little moments like that in stories?
The answer: would you keep reading if nothing exciting occurred? Probably not. And, if you think about it, your life is filled with little moments of tension (and hopefully not too many BIG moments of tension). Walking requires physical tension. So does talking, bending, carrying a bag of groceries. If we lost that tension we’d be unable to move. If your mind remained relaxed all the time, how would you handle making decisions?
Authors take our daily physical and mental tension and ramp them up to keep their stories interesting. They select adjectives and nouns to color the scenes (drab, fake, empty… shooter, mist,linoleum). They use active verbs (race, stumble, throb, tremble, shout) to draw you attention to the level of tension in a scene. Can you spot them? Read the following excerpts, first John Sandford’s Heat Lightning followed by a paragraph from Tatiana de Rosnay’s, A Secret Kept. Be aware of how the author uses tension on these early pages. Does it work? Does it pull you into the scene? If so, it’s a job well done.
(Sandford, page 2) The shooter passed the front of the redbrick historic courthouse…He paused next to a hedge, behind a tree trunk, bent over with his hands on his kneees, as if catching his breath or stretching his hamstrings, like runners do. Looked around. Said quietly, “On point. Dark, silent. Waiting for something to happen. Nothing did. After last look around, he pulled off the reflective strap and stuffed it in a pocket. When he did that, he vanished. He was gone; he was part of the fabric of the night.”
(de Rosnay p. 1) I am shown into a small, drab room, told to sit down and wait. Six empty brown plastic chairs face each other on tired lineoleum. In a corner, a fake green plant, shiny leaves coated with dust. I do as I am told. I sit down. My thighs tremble. My palms fee; clammy, my throat parched. My head throbs. I think, I should call ourfather now, I should call him before it gets too late. But my hands make no effort to grab the phone in the pocket of my jeans. Call our father and tell him what? Tell him now?
Now it’s your turn. Send me a paragraph from a book you are currently reading or writing that shows tension. (Can you feel your tension build at the thought of finding a sample? I hope so. If not, I didn’t do my job.) Sharing is goo. I’ll post your found tension examples in a future post.