HOW TO BUILD TENSION IN YOUR SCENE
We talked about tension building yesterday, but today is a bit different. This is referring to the rise and fall — kinda’ like an empire. If a scene starts at its peak, and it’s not the last scene of the novel, then it’s hard to follow after that point. Even if the scene is resolving a conflict, there should be an interest spike to rekindle or to create a new spark.
Each scene should be like that yodeler on The Price is Right who goes up the mountain while the player is calling out prices for products or whatever they’re doing. But the yodeler just won’t quit. If the price is wrong, the yodeler falls off the side. Our scenes should escalate in a similar fashion.
Remember the ex girlfriend in the blog FROM HEAD TO TOE? She was crazy, right? She texted Jimbo. He accepted her invitation to come over, and she beat on the door waiting for him to answer.
Let’s pick up there. Notice the scene escalation.
Jimbo unbolted the door and slowly turned the knob. The click of the metal gears felt like daggers in chest. She pushed the door wide open, and the late night draft intruded along with her. “James. I missed you.” He didn’t respond. Her crimson Coach bag, almost the color of blood, slipped down her wrist into the notch above her elbow. She pushed back her bleach-blonde hair and started towards him. Her skimpy mini-skirt rustled from her brisk movements. “You miss me too, don’t you?”
Jimbo nodded sheepishly. He fixed his scattered hair, knowing that if he didn’t, she’d fix it for him. “Yeah. I did.”
“James, let’s never break up again. Promise?”
“Jimbo,” he said softly.
She fixed her hair again. Her countless bangles rattled down her arm. “What?”
“That’s my name. I don’t go by James, and I don’t answer to you anymore.”
“James, what’s wrong with you? Why are being like this?”
He re-tangled his hair and took heavy steps towards her. She cowered back, and even the intrusive breeze shriveled under his command. “Who do you think you are? You treat me like crap for six years, and you have the nerve to ask me to get back with you! What is your problem! You sleep with my best friend. You turn my other friends against me, and you have the nerve to step foot into my house!”
Feel the tension. See the girl imposing herself on him, and think about how it makes you feel. There is an injustice happening, and I’ve exposed it. This girl should not be forcing herself on this boy. And what’s great is that you can do soooooo much better than this with your novel. Where can you create tension? Are some of your scenes lacking? What can you do to improve them?
One thing to remember is that we do not to start a scene at its peak. What if it had started with him yelling? You miss the aggression that she shows towards him. You miss the emboldened power that he gets from her standing in his doorway. You miss our weak and feeble protag turn into a valiant hero because he stands up from himself.
What’s great about it is that you, my friend, can do so much better! Build tension and sell those novels!
By the way: for a blog about pacing your writing flow, visit FRESH INK. The title is the same, but the content is different. 😉
really enjoyed this
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suggestion about dialogue in your scene there. when two people are talking, they rarely address each other by name. usually, they only use names if they’re unhappy with the other person. if mary is in the kitchen and john is watching tv, and the doorbell rings, mary would normally just say, “can you get that?” she doesn’t need to say his name if nobody else is there. but if john is a lazy shit, always watching tv and drinking beer while she’s making dinner, then she’s say, “can you get that, john?”
Thanks again, Rich. Though you are right, I must highlight a flaw in what you’re thinking here. Notice how Jimbo never says her name. It’s for the reasons that you suggest. But the girl constantly says his. So there is another reason to say someone’s name, and that is if you are pleading with that person. Also it shows how annoying she is and how unwilling she always has been to conform to him. By calling him James and not Jimbo.
The purpose of this blog is not to demonstrate my writing talent but to highlight writing techniques. The examples I use are contrived in only a few moments, but it’s the strategy that’s more important to me.
I LOVE tension! 😉