Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Can You Say Tension?

A few weeks ago, I attended an eight-hour, Donald Maass workshop. I 'd heard great things about his book, "Writing the Breakout Novel", so attending the class in Dedham, MA made perfect sense. A quick thanks here to New England Sisters In Crime for sponsoring and taking on most of the expense of the event.

Mr. Maass began by having us dredge up all the fear, superstition, worry and hurt inside our protagonist and then using those emotions to fuel our story. In order to have a page turner, he insisted, you need to have tension. He spoke of the big picture where tension builds up to vital parts of the story and then he spoke about tension throughout the pages. He explained that tension is what keeps the reader turning the pages.

So, I looked at my work. Every few chapters I'd tossed in some tension, mostly around ghostly happenings. That wasn't enough? I have quite a few books hanging around my house in bookcases, baskets and bags in the closets. Wondering what some of my favorite authors did about tension, I snagged a few to reread some passages. Guess what? The books I had loved had tension throughout. Those were the books that had ruined my sleep. Hmmm! Looked like Donald Maass was right. Tension made for an exciting read.

Looking through those books, I realized that tension didn't necessarily occur only at the big fear times in the story. We usually have tension in smaller life events also. Things like entering a room where you don't know anyone or running into trouble at work. Maybe you've made a mistake and you're waiting for someone to find out. Maybe your car won't start. There are so many small occurrences in our daily lives that cause us anxiety. In our writing, we can add that stress to our characters' lives and keep the reader interested and turning pages.

In this edit of A Trace of Evil, I've been letting the reader see Dani's human foibles and her secret fears and I think the story has become much stronger. Hopefully you'll all think so, too, when it's finally done. In the meantime, add a little angst to your character's life and have fun writing.

A Peek at "A Trace of Evil"

During this long timeout, I’ve been working on my book draft to send to an editor.Writing this story is a lot of fun and I thought you might like to have a peek. A Trace of Evil is about a young woman who leaves a controlling boyfriend only to find her new apartment has a controlling ghost. The story begins with Dani inspecting the apartment. This is a scene from the bedroom, the only room in the apartment with origins in the Eighteenth century. Here's a snippet of conversation between Dani and her older sister, Kirsten:
To myself I muttered, “It’s a little gloomy in here. I suppose I could perk it up with some bright colors.”
Kirsten, who missed nothing, gave me an incredulous stare. “Look at the floor boards. They’re gorgeous and I’d die for a fireplace like this. The apartment is perfect for you.”
Leave it to Kirsten to know what was best for me.
“Is it?”
“Of course.”
Ready to tell her I could make up my own mind, Eddie took me aside. When he told me the rent, I fell in love with the place myself.
“You can move in next week, if you like. I’ll have it cleaned.”
Before I could ask why such a great apartment had been vacant for so long, Kirsten poked my arm. “Earth to Dani.”
“Do you want it?”
Did I want it? Knowing what rents were like in Salem, I’d be foolish to turn it down. “Okay, Eddie. I’ll take it.”
Heading back to the kitchen, (my kitchen, I thought with a thrill) I caught the smell of tobacco. I glanced up at the loft . . . was that smoke? I stopped and squinted in the dim light. Nothing. Nothing but shadows.