Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Writers! Ramp that Tension! And win a book...
Ramping Tension by Cheryl Wyatt
Have you seen the movie Unstoppable?
If not, DO! It’s a prime example of tension that never relents. The stakes keep getting raised every scene of the story. It would be a great teaching tool to study and see how you can incorporate that kind of relentless tension in your work.
Even regular romances need to have tension on every page. Otherwise the writing can seem lackadaisical, boring or episodic. You don’t want an editor to read scene after scene and think, “Who cares?”
Besides grabbing them with emotion using internal conflicts of the characters, you can use external conflicts to build tension. In other words, one way to invest them into your story and keep their eyes rivited to your words is to continually ramp tension. Build upon conflict subtly or strongly in places.
Example of what I mean:
A woman (let’s name her Seeka. She lives in rural Seekerville) is getting ready to leave for work. Big deal, right? What’s exciting about that? Nothing. It’s mundane. Readers don’t want to be subjected to your characters’ activities of daily living. They want tension. Excitement. Something to compel them forward page after page until they’re to the end without realizing how they got there.
How do we do that?
By tension-ramping and conflict building blocks. How do we do that?
One way is to continually ask yourself, “How can I make this worse for my character?”
Let’s do this together! So, our woman Seeka is getting ready for work. How can we put tension in that scene scenario?
---Have her suddenly realize the time changed and she’s already late perhaps?
Let’s build. Then ask yourself after every build, "How can we make this worse?"
So, Seeka realizes she’s late. Drops the mascara tube and grabs her brush and an apple knowing she can eat and brush her hair in the car. She reaches for her phone to call her boss to tell her she’ll be late. After all, her boss is also her friend. She’ll understand, right? Right?
Wrong. Add tension here. Make this worse on Seeka. Who actually answers the phone? Or perhaps her harried boss tells her they have OSHA inspectors there and this is the WORST day she could pick to be late.
How can we make this worse aka ramp tension more?
Her boss adds that the OSHA inspector is Seeka’s ex-husband. The divorce ended ugly and on a sour note and he’s loaded for bear.
How can we ramp tension and raise the stakes even more?
Have Seeka get to the car only to realize she left her phone on the table after her friend/boss told her the OSHA inspector, who is Seeka’s ex, is on-site drilling the place.
Seeka’s job depends on the results of this inspection. There. We ramped more. Put more at stake. What else can happen to make things worse? Think of other wrenches to toss into the plan. But always keep the story/scene moving forward.
So Seeka grabs her phone and rushed back out the door…only to discover she has locked her keys in the car. Ramp tension more by having the car be running.
Okay, you take it from there.
Write a short scene in the comment section by telling me how Seeka’s day went. Give suggestions on how to continually ramp tension.
OR, I’ll give you prompt scenarios below. Pick one and list seven things to ramp the tension. These seven things don’t happen all at once. They build on one another. Otherwise the conflict may not seem believable.
I’m going to pick THREE winners who I feel put forth the best, most believable; most edge-of-the-seat effort to ramp tension. Three participating winners will receive one copy each of my June Love Inspired, Steadfast Soldier or a conflict craft book if you already have my book. (Don't worry, readers-only! I have another chance for you to win. Read on!)
Scenarios to choose from:
1. Myrakin leaves to meet a realtor.
2. Glynnalyn is out shoveling snow before work.
3. Maryella leaves to attend a birth.
4. Juliette embarks on a romantic cruise ship adventure.
5. Cheryletta is wearing a parachute and about to jump from a plane
6. Camylotta is running a marathon in Hawaii.
7. Tinalita is in her kitchen cooking Italian food for guests.
8. Caramia is meeting with a history professor.
9. Ruthanna is outside chasing an errant rooster.
10. Pammie is crunching numbers behind a work computer.
11. Missylissa is on a field trip with kids picking southern peaches.
12. Janetty is at a big race with thousands of people.
13. Audralee is feeding and brushing horses.
14. Sandrana is riding on a mountain trail.
15. Debbyenne is drawing blood on a patient.
Simply add seven ramps to one of these. Pick more than one if you want. Have fun! Write in any tone or genre. Tension doesn’t always mean true suspense. These can be funny too. Most of all, have fun!
If you get stuck, here are some ramps you can borrow or mix and match.
Tension rampers if you need the help. Try not to use more than 1-3 of these in your scene. I want you to think of at least 4 on your own. This will be a great exercise!
--An escaped elephant gets in the road.
--Runs out of gas.
--Happens in a busy intersection.
--A tsunami warning hits the U.S. shore.
--It will be here in an hour.
--Cell phone dead.
--Daughter won’t answer.
--Starts sleeting outside.
--Is dive-bombed by huge birds.
--Electricity goes out.
--Runs into a poisonous snake.
--Gets a call she won the lottery.
--Skunk in garage.
--Has two minutes to get there.
--Locks self out of house.
--Storm brewing overhead.
--Someone snatches purse.
--Horse in house.
--Figures out too late the man isn’t who he claimed.
--Husband out of town.
--Child diabetic blood sugar high. Forgot insulin.
--Mountain lion in area.
--Practical joke/Prank phone call.
--Dad has Alzheimer’s.
--School called with emergency.
--Lungs tight. Wheezing. Inhaler lost or empty.
--Doctor’s office closed.
--All airline flights delayed.
--Police not answering.
--Ambulances all in use.
--Urgent phone call.
--He proposes three months early.
--Your daughter doesn't approve.
--Get called on a mission.
--Son with behavioral problems at school.
--Lives two states away.
--Wind blows electric pole across highway in front of car.
--Tornado warning. F3 on the ground, one mile away.
--Husband’s building hit.
--No one answers.
--Mouse in sink.
--Elephant has rabies.
Okay, so that last one was a joke. Can you tell I like natural disasters? LOL! Well, I don't like them, I just like subjecting characters to them. Anyway, pick and pluck those tension ramping helpers if you need. I look forward to reading everyone’s “entry!” If you’re a reader rather than a writer, you can be entered by describing a scene sequence by a favorite author that gripped your attention lately. Bonus point if the book is from a Seeker! I’ll give 1 copy of Steadfast Soldier to any non-writer who comments with a scene description, Seeker books included!
That’s FOUR book prizes in all. FOUR chances to win.
Ready, Set, Ramp That Tension!!!