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.