Monday, August 31, 2009
Ramping Tension and GIVEAWAY!
Tangible example of ramping conflict:
The most important question you can ask that will enable you to ramp conflict and put tension on every page is:
How can I make things worse?
In A Soldier's Reunion, I opened the scene with a bridge collapse. That's pretty bad, huh? But guess what? I made it worse. LOL! I made it worse by:
--having the PJs called to it. Made that worse by having them called to it after just coming off another mission so they're tired. I made that worse by having the collapse happen in their beloved hometown so there's the fear there of someone they loved having been on the bridge. I made that worse by having word get to them en route that there are confirmed fatalities, but no ID yet. So the tension keeps getting ramped and ramped and ramped. How did I make it even more worse? LOL! By having the wife of one of the PJs realize his stepdaughter was on a field trip at school and would have been on the bridge on their way back at the exact time of the collapse. Then they get word that there is a school bus on the bridge between the gap, which is tilting at one inch per minute and will give way any second. Then I made it worse by adding a burning tanker, ready to explode any second.
That's ALL in the opening few paragraphs. The book continues this way. There are breaks to give the reader a breather. LOL! But I just wanted to give an example of how you can keep asking yourself, "It's already bad, but how can I make it worse?"
Camy Tang is a MASTER at ramping external tension, meaning something that is an external threat to the character. So are Mary Connealy and Debby Giusti. They do well with physical conflict and danger scenarios. So if you don't have copies of their books, pick them up asap to see great examples of authors who know how to keep a steady stream of conflict in their books. Excellent tension rampers, these gals!
Julie Lessman has tons of romantic tension in her books. I've read Audra's stuff and she's excellent at this too. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the romantic tension she puts in her books as well as the external tensions she works through even her settings and rough terrain and through her characters' pasts that haunt them. This counts! So does emotional tension, which Janet, Cara, Glynna and Missy do well.
There's also relational tension, tension between characters. Sandra, Tina, Pam, Myra and Ruthy (as you'll soon see!) do this very well.
Positive tension counts too. So go for it! Tension is tension. It can be external or internal, positive or negative. But mostly, keep upping the stakes, meaning make really bad things happen to your character. Make their worst fear come true. Give them two choices with equally bad consequences and make them have no other choice than to choose one. LOL! Make the reader love them then make the character's life completely miserable throughout the book until the resolution or black moment when everything comes to a head. Tension comes from giving the characters dreams and wishes and goals then throwing hurdles, wrenches and roadblocks into the mix.
Put some type of tension on every page. If your character is just driving and introspecting or conversing, make it be raining so there's that constant ping in the background. If your character is running late, make it her first day on the job. Then make her go outside to discover she has a flat tire. LOL! How could you make that worse? Make her boss be the type of person who doesn't dole out mercy and has a pet peeve for tardiness.
Proofreading galleys for A Soldier’s Devotion, I decided to jot down the external conflict and see how it ramped.
Opening scene disaster: Christian attorney Val Russo crashes into USAF PJ Vince.
• We discover hero has a thing against attorneys because his brother was wrongly convicted due to an attorney who didn’t rat out a false informant.
• We discover Vince was headed to a mission when heroine rammed him
• His beloved bike is toast
• Val is embarrassed about being an upholder of the law and given two citations and one warning for traffic infractions which she will have to go to the courthouse to pay. Same courthouse she uses to prosecute criminals
• It was the only tangible reminder he had left of his late brother, who custom built him the bike
• His brother passed away in prison
• Vince discovers Val is not only a Christian but an attorney and not just an attorney but a prosecutor which Vince thinks is the worst kind
• Val was on her way to court when she was talking on the phone (illegal) and hit Vince
.The first officer on the scene is a good friend of Vince's
• Val crashed because she’d received a phone call that her aunt toppled down stairs on her medical scooter
• The aunt takes a turn for the worst
• Val discovers Vince was headed to a rescue mission when she hit him
• Vince was unable to go on the mission, leaving his team one man short=dangerous
• Vince discovers his team let another team go in their place, a more novice team=livid
• The pilot is still missing after a week.
• Superiors notify them the pilot was found but not alive and Vince’s anger surges toward the woman who hit him. He hopes she steers clear because she wants nothing to do with him
• Vince verbally lashes out at Val when she comes to apologize
• Vince discovers about her aunt’s accident and feels terrible for accusing Val of driving under the influence of distraction
• Vince’s dad was an alcoholic and Vince realizes he (himself) may have a drinking problem
• Val determines to get Vince’s bike rebuilt after she discovers about his brother. She also determines to get his brother’s name officially cleared
• The only person who can help with the bike’s custom rebuilding is Vince’s sister
• Val determines Vince is estranged with his sister
• Vince determines to stay out of heroine’s path
• Val discovers the only person who knows the bike design is Vince’s sister
• Val discovers Vince and his sister have been estranged since their brother’s prison death
The kicker: THIS IS ALL IN CHAPTERS 1 & 2. And there's more tension/conflict than what's mentioned above but I’ll stop here but you see how I continually ramped tension by asking myself, “How can I make this worse?” Then keep asking that. “It’s already bad, but how can I make it worse?”
Writers, I’d love to hear examples from your own work.
Readers, I’d love to hear examples from books you’ve read where the author did a great job of continually upping the stakes.
How can you make things worse and worse and worse for your character?
For the photos up there (two of them are from the inland hurricane I went through in Southern Illinois recently) think of the scenario. Write a small scene if you want and think how you could ramp the tension in those scenes. For instance, maybe a car is trying to get past the tree in the road. Maybe the person is late for work. Or maybe it's a pregnant woman in hard labor. Maybe the pregnant woman isn't due for three more months. See how you can continually ask, "How can I make this worse?"
Oh, and everyone who leaves a comment with your e-mail address included (include spaces or brackets around the "@" sign so Net spiders, etc can't phish your address) in a drawing for a free, autographed copy of A Soldier's Reunion. Deadline for entry via the comment section of this post is Sept 3 at Midnight CST.