Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Evolution of Tension

I like to put my characters in crappy situations. I love to hurt them, damage, them, and in general create chaos. A lot of writers do. Besides, how else are you going to get them to grow and change and make it so the readers care?

In 2007 when I was at Seton Hill University getting my Masters in popular fiction, Donald Maass, who owns the Donald Maass Literary Agency, graced us with his presence and discussed tension. Adding tension to the story in different ways. Constant tension. Tension in every line, if possible. Making scenes full of it. Now, this isn't the Michael Bay approach, that is to say, blow everything up with guns and car chases and big f-ing robots (though big f-ing robots are always cool), but just make it more....reader-hanging-on-your-every-word-ish.

I recently had a stroke of ridiculous inspiration (as most of my inspiration tends to be in some way ridiculous and I'm not sure why) and sat down at my computer to crank out about 100 pages in 4 (give or take) days. Now, as much as I'd like to press on, I'm going back to edit scenes that I've decided don't work and would be better off changing them now while the new ideas are fresh in my mind rather than later.

One of these scenes had to be entirely replaced. Why? No tension. A painful lack of tension, in fact. I wasn't happy writing it the first time, and that was just first draft, blow through it nonsense. So I sat back and considered how I wanted it to change. I had all the elements in my head, and after rearranging things a bit, I came up with a new scene, much more exciting, and fits better in the story.

Here's the original idea:

Hero and heroine need to find Character A, who has been caught by slave traders. The protagonists find the tent, go in after slight little hassle, only to find Character A has already been sold. Very little drama between protagonists and slave traders. Heroine is eventually convinced by Hero to purchase a slave, whom they free, and who I had no idea what to do with later in the story since it seemed completely stupid to have that moment and not use the freed slave later. I did have an idea, but it was so inconsequential and weak, I wasn't happy with it.

The new idea:

Heroine only goes into the tent after a slight hassle, as Character A has major issues with the Hero (believes he intends to kill her). Character A has not been sold off, and Heroine manages to buy her. Then Hero runs in to inform Heroine that Something Bad is on the way, causing Character A to freak out. In turn, slave traders freak out, and a less-than-organized fight ensues, which does not bode well for Heroine as she has no fighting skills at all. Character A runs from the tent and amidst confusion, Heroine frees bunches of slaves and Hero gets injured and a few people don't make it. Outside, Character A gets kidnapped by Something Bad, much to the dismay of Heroine and Hero. This also works better because Something Bad needed to pop up sooner, and this is the ideal place.

Much better. Ok, so I did go the Michael Bay way a bit, but there aren't any explosions or giant robots, so I'm kind of in the clear. Either way, it's a hell of a lot better than just having them go in there with no problems at all. It's actually less common to go the "no problem ensues" route, but that's basically because it's boring. Haha.

This is just one spot where things are improving. What I've added is also about the same size, if not slightly larger than the original section, so I haven't lost any pages in the process. In fact, after adding snipping and redoing this and other parts, the page number has become 110. Granted, there's still a lot of work to be done, but that's still around a 1/4 of a book. Awesome.

Oh, and here's the current count for any wondering:

Rejections: 22
Partial Requests: 3

Thanks for coming to Seton Hill, Mr. Maass!