Monday, July 8, 2013

Tension Robbers!

Annette M. Irby
Happy Monday, friends. Annette here. I’m working on rewrites on one of my own projects and finding some tension robbers. Are you familiar with them? A good book will keep you hooked throughout the entire story. If the tension and/or conflict dies out, so does the story. Below are some tension robbers and the means to battle them:

Homeostasis


In life, both our minds and bodies prefer the security of remaining in a comfortable place—not too hot or too cold, not too stressed or too dull, not too hungry or too full. And we don’t like to be in pain. If we get out of those comfort zones, we aim for the nearest means of getting right back in. We like to keep things even. That’s homeostasis. It’s also deadly to your story's plot.

TIP: Don’t let things go calm and remain there for long. Always have another layer of conflict brewing when one is tied up. Let there be conflict! Let there be tension! For then, there is story.

Hook-outs

The most satisfying song endings are those that resolve. They come “down” and don’t leave you feeling as if the conclusion of the song hasn’t happened. Resolution is great in music and in arguments, for that matter, but not in story.

TIP: Keep the reader hooked by avoiding resolution at scene and chapter endings. Bring up new questions for the reader at these key spots. Let there be another layer of conflict building beneath the surface.


No Early Rescues

Let your characters suffer and let them face conflicts and trials without rescuing them too early. Challenge yourself as a writer to come up with a solution to situations you’ve never faced. Don’t take the easy way out, or necessarily the first solution. Be careful of letting angels or God rescue your characters all (or, some would say, any of) the time. Be careful of writing contrived rescues. Let them happen naturally. Use foreshadowing. For example, perhaps your hero and heroine are out rock climbing and he has no idea what he’s doing. But earlier in the story you mentioned that your heroine used to teach rock climbing or that she’s spent ten years perfecting her rescue techniques. Then, have her rescue him, after a harrowing scene. This will feel believable. When he’s rescued, though, let tension arise over something else. Now, she’ll have to share her secret, or now he’ll have to give her a job—whatever works for your story.

TIP: Let your characters use their own ingenuity to get out jams, but let them suffer first.

Rationalization

My heroine just talked herself right out of the scene’s inherent tension. Snore! As writers, we want to:

1) Find the inherent conflict or tension of a scene. If none exists, invent something fitting.

2) Milk that tension or conflict.

3) Draw out the scene to a fitting length without going too long, as that will feel contrived.

Just because we prefer homeostasis in life, or we rationalize our worries away, or God does rescue us, doesn’t mean our stories will benefit from this. And feel free to throw some twists in here. Perhaps your character doesn’t know all the things the reader does, so she rationalizes away her fears, then the sociopath attacks. That’s great tension!

Recognize and Neutralize

The overall key is to recognize when we, as writers, are attempting to bring the plot back under control so we’re comfortable. Maybe the story’s gotten too emotional, so we’d rather avoid the pain, or maybe we’d rather not be in that dark house during a thunderstorm. But good story isn’t about comfort. It’s about tension and conflict. 


Seek out the tension robbers and eliminate them before they take away the story’s value. Your readers will love you for it!

Your turn: What are some other tension robbers you’ve noticed? As a writer, how do you ensure you have enough tension?


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Annette M. Irby is a published author who runs her own editing business, AMI Editing. She is also an acquisitions editor for Pelican Book Group. See her page here on Seriously Write for more information.

7 comments:

  1. Homeostasis? Hmmm...so that's my condition, eh? I'm one of those comfort dwellers. Love my routine (my son would say "rut"), so I try to stay cognizant of this and extend no mercy to my characters. It's always a battle, though. Thanks for the reminder, Annette, and for sharing these tips.

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    1. I remember learning about homeostasis in Psych class. Yes, that's so me! And it may be our characters, too, but it won't help our stories. ;) I'm guessing, after all the books you've published, Dora, that you have some great tips on this topic too. :D Write on!

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  2. Yep, I'm a "fixer," always mediate family (and otherwise) conflicts. So, it's hard to put my little darlin's in hot water. But that makes for a very dull read.

    Love the tips to use hook-outs and foreshadowing. Thanks, Annette!

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    1. Yes, that fixing it tendency. It's instinctive, isn't it? And actually, it will help us write. But not right away. Hot water first. ;) Write on, Angie!

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  3. Hmmm...I need to use your tips in reworking the last chapter you critiqued for me. You know - the one that needed more tension! LOL

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    1. Between our crit group meeting and working on my own WIP, I suddenly had enough meat for this article. ;) We should bring an object to McCrit that we stand on the table to remind us: tension! ;) A moving object... Or just some irritable patrons. They add plenty of tension. :/ (Re)write on, D! :D

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  4. Homeostasis is definitely my problem. Thanks for the tips.

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