Tension

No, nothing to do with my considerable time constraints today.

I’m talking about tension in a story. And how I got it wrong for a considerable portion of mine.

It started at the very beginning of my Doorways crits. My one CP extraordinaire, M Pax, kept asking me to let her see into one MC’s past. And I wouldn’t, because, well, she was just as coy with me. Why should I share info when my MC wanted to let it come out in her own good time?

Besides, I thought, the mystery about her past just adds to the tension.

True. But as this post points out, it adds to the wrong sort of tension. After I read this post, I got to thinking about Doorways. And realized what a huge mistake I’d made. I ended up spending the greater part of my day rooting out and fixing it. Luckily for me, a few subtle changes were enough, but it could have been a lot worse. Which is why I’m writing about it today as well.

Real tension in a story comes from the fact that characters have questions and goals. We readers experience tension because they don’t know if those questions will be answered or the goals attained. We hope they will be, but we know that possibly they won’t. So we read on, hoping (and if the writer is really good, praying) that things will end up the way we and the character want them to.

The reason why we care this much is that by the time the goals and questions become known, we feel like we know the character. We can’t care if we don’t see why the goals and question are important to the character. So you can’t make us care if you don’t give us the information we need to bond with the characters.

Yes… the mystery in the character’s past adds to tension, but unless it’s the foundation of the plot (e.g. if the character’s question is about his/her past), it will make the reader hurl the book to the nearest wall.

The blog post above gave a few examples of bad tension, so I’m just going to let you go there to read them. But to sum it up, I’m now thinking about tension like this: Tension should be forward looking. It should be about the story going forward to the end and about whether the end will be the one the reader wants.  

If your tension is back looking, i.e. coming from the fact that the reader isn’t being allowed to see into a main character’s past, odds are pretty great that you’ll be annoying the life out of your reader.

Trust me. When I put my reader cap on and read my MC’s intro, I wanted to strangle the writer.

So do you also write your tension to be back-looking? How do you make sure that the tension in your story doesn’t annoy the reader?

PS: Mary. So sorry about Callan. She’s a lot better now. ;-P

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A to Z Challenge: Obvious



Credit

This is definitely one I struggle with. Because I wrote the story, everything that’s been written is perfectly clear to me.

So it’s a common occurance that I send out work and get back crit upon crit saying that they don’t know what’s going on. Because I can visualize what’s going on all the time, I can’t see when someone can’t.

In those circumstances, the solution is to go back to each scene that misses some clarity and make the necessary aspects more obvious.

On the other hand, I have found that writers make things too obvious. That is by far the number one on my pet peeves list. Because making things glaringly obvious looks like the writer thinks the reader is an idiot. And insulting the people you want to pay for the story is never the wisest course. Luckily though, it’s an easy fix. Deleting the reitirations of the obvious.

If the plot is too obvious or convoluted, though, you have a bit more of a problem. You’ll have to put your story through substantial revisions to complicate or simplify your story, depending on the situation. 

So if you’re think that something’s too obvious or not obvious enough, you might want to get your CPs to help you spot all the places to fix…

Look Out for These:

1) Crit partners asking why/how/when/where questions.

2) Crit partners stating that they know something or that it’s already clear.

3) Readers predicting the end or not getting the end at all.

Do you make things too obvious? Or do you struggle to?

Grounded

There’s something that I struggle with when I write that annoy both me and my crit partners.

I leave the reader in a haze.

Actions are taking place, but sometimes I don’t ground them correctly. So instead of going where it’s supposed to (i.e. where I want it to be), my reader’s imagination goes in another direction. The imagination fills in the gaps that I leave.

Not necessarily a bad thing. It’s one way to draw the reader into the story. On the other hand, if the progression of my writing leads to the reader having to erase the filling he/she had created to fill it with what I’ve written, there’s a problem. That re-evaluation is enough to yank anyone out of the story.

Does this mean that everything has to be written before the main action takes place? No. For one thing, the reader might just skip over the block of description.

Instead, it’s necessary to make sure that the information is available to the reader by the time it’s needed. For example:

My heart raced as I ran. Behind me, a gunman struggled to catch up. A curse and a dull thud signalled the man’s fall. I grabbed the opportunity sped up before hiding behind a tree.

Now these short sentences look fine on their own, but if they were a start of a chapter or story, there might be a problem. The tree. Firstly, the tree seems to have jumped up from nowhere. Also… I’m guessing that you’re imagining a single tree.

If later on it turns out to be a tree the MC picked out in a forest, the reader will have a hey wait! moment. That’s the last thing you as writer will want.

Same thing with the gunman’s fall. Why? Did he trip? Because most people would assume that one tree will imply even ground for some distance.

So, to make less of a problem:

The forest loomed ahead as I ran. My heart raced my feet to the massive oak in the center. If I could lose the gunman behind me, the oak would be my safe haven. I flicked my eyes down as the forest’s shadows greeted me. My eyes roved the ground for holes and bumps as I sped up. Sure, the forest was where I could hide, but it was also where the gunman could kill me if he could take a shot. I ducked to the right, sensing, more than seeing a hole splintering in a nearby pine tree. Then two sweet sounds reached my ear: a curse and a dull thud. The idiot should have kept his focus on his feet. My lungs burned as I sped up to put more distance between us. When I squeezed into my oaken sanctuary, the buzz in my ears was the only thing I could hear….

In the above paragraph, the forest exists in the reader’s mind before the necessity of the oak is known. The need to focus on the ground is known before the gunman falls. Now the reader can work out he tripped and when the MC makes it to the oak, it’s easy to understand why hiding in the tree would make sense, because how will the Gunman pick out where the MC is hiding? As supposed to one tree in a seemingly flat landscape.

The paragraph makes more sense in this:




than this:




So it’s your job as writer to make sure that if something happens in photo one, it has to be made clear from the start. Otherwise it might look as if it happens in photo two and readers will find it strange when something happens to imply otherwise.

How do you make sure that your scenes are grounded?

A to Z Challenge: Obvious or Obscure?

When you write, do you write for clarity? Or do you like to keep the mystery going for as long as you can?


I’m definitely in the latter category. My series is all about secrets and betrayals. So for that to work, I need to keep things on the obscure side. I think a lot of writers prefer to keep things veiled for the simple reason that we can add more twists and turns and keep readers guessing. I mean, we can’t keep people guessing if they already know…


Of course, that brings me to the first point I want to make. If you want to go for obscure, make sure that it is in fact obscure. There are few things as annoying as having to scream at a character because he/she can’t see something that is happening right before their eyes.


Making the reader scream because they can see something that the character has NO WAY of seeing, is sheer brilliance. It’s something I strive for.


Back to obscurity. It is also important that the writing isn’t too obscure. If the reader is saying “huh?!” too many times, it pulls the right out of the story. At best.


If the writer throws in a twist with zero setting up beforehand, it will probably result in the book being flung against the wall.


That’s too obscure.


So what would be the ideal reaction from the reader in this case? Something like the following:
“HUH?! Wait… *wince* oooooohhhh… that.


Yep. I’m a firm believer in Chekhov’s Gun. Obscure the reason for the clue’s existence, but not the clue itself. It must be VERY clearly visible. Because the idea is to slap the reader behind the head with it later. Not because they missed it, but because they missed its significance.