Scott Johnson on the Dark Angel Fiction Writing blog posted about creating tension in every genre. The post gave tips on how to build the tension slowly over time without losing the reader’s interest. He wrote:
My own definition of tension as it relates to horror, and writing in general, is taking your characters to the edge and refusing to push them over. It’s a subtle build of events, each one another notch on the ratchet that brings him closer to the inevitable end. But more than just careening toward that end, it’s in how he gets there that’s important. It isn’t enough to get your character from point A to point Z. It’s the roadblocks (points B-Y) you set up in front of him that make the story. Each one brings him closer to the edge.
I gotta say this is something I struggle with.
Specifically, I have a hard time keeping tension high during “down time.” By down time, I mean the scenes between the action, where the characters get to catch their breath before launching into the next brawl.
It’s a delicate balancing act because you can’t slack off too much, or things get boring.
On the other hand you can’t have action ALL THE TIME OR YOU END UP NUMBING YOUR READER TO ANYTHING EXCITING WHATSOEVER, KIND OF LIKE THIS, THE ALL CAPS THING. HOW DO YOU KNOW WHAT’S IMPORTANT AND WHAT ISN’T? HOW LONG TO YOU GO BEFORE YOU STOP READING THIS BECAUSE I’M PRACTICALLY YELLING AT YOU FOR NO REASON?
OK. Enough of that, I think you get the point.
So, here’s what I do (or at least attempt to do, LOL!) to keep the tension high:
- Tight sentences (reading aloud can help eliminate extraneous words)
- Tight dialogue that keeps the plot moving
- Limited backstory seeded around the manuscript in bits
- Limited, but pertinent description–HOW and WHAT you describe something can give HELLA deets about your character and his/her “voice” and it doesn’t have to go on ad nauseum
- If a scene doesn’t advance the plot, I cut it, no matter how “nice” it is or how much I like it
- Up the ante every chance I get
- Create conflict between characters
- Create conflict between the POV character’s inner thoughts with what they actually say
Your turn. What tips and techniques do you have to keep the tension high?
AND, how do you keep tension high during the “down times???”
Be sure to check out Lydia’s post on 2011 Writerly Goals for the Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog.
PLUS, let’s give a warm welcome to our newest contributor, Sarah Fine, YA writer, blogger, and child psychologist, repped by Kathleen Ortiz!! She’ll be posting her responses on the third Wednesdays of every month.
Welcome, Sarah! Glad to have you aboard!!
Also, fantasy and paranormal writer and blog buddy, Ciara Knight is interviewing me over at her blog today! Stop in and say hi!