Feeling Tense?

August 5, 2010 at 5:01 am (Character, Tension, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

We all know that tension and conflict are essential to an interesting plot, but sometimes stories just start to feel that little bit melodramatic. They take themselves so seriously and every little thing is a major drama for all the characters. Or a character enters the story – about a third of the way through – and their only real purpose seems to be that the middle of the story was getting boring and someone decided that they needed more tension to keep it moving. This can work if the problems caused by this character somehow link back into the central conflict, or it can feel like an add-in if the character comes, antagonizes people for awhile, and then when the story gets moving again, miraculously either has a change of heart or disappears.

There is virtually no end to the list of different ways you can add tension to a story. Sometimes those seemingly simplistic moments can become very tense (and not in an overly dramatic way when handled well). As a reader, these are my five favourite ways that authors introduce tension for their characters:

1.  A secret is uncovered and the character is trying to prevent the knowledge from spreading. I always like intrigues and character dilemmas. You always wonder just how far is this character going to go to keep this a secret. And when the secret is revealed, how will they react? Admittedly, as a reader I like to be in on the secret and then the fun is seeing if the other characters in the story catch on.

2.  Forced waits. I’m going to confess that I love this as a plot device because in real life this is what causes the most tension. You know what is coming, you know what you need to do, everything is progressing and then it all just stalls. You can really relate to the characters as they get frustrated and impatient and desperate to act while others use the time for further preparations and others still simply work themselves into a bundle of nerves.

3.  Rivalry. It may be a cliché but I do love rivals when they are both well established characters and their both given a fair showing. The play between the two as they try to one-up the other, while not admitting that they care what the other thinks, can make for an intriguing and interesting story and can also create some really interesting tensions between the other characters as they realise what is happening.

4.  RAS (Random Acts of Stupidity). Everybody is stupid at one point or another and when a character has clearly done something incredibly dumb, I like that to be addressed by the other characters, rather than simply ignored because it is convenient to the story. This can create really interesting group dynamics and the tension in the scene where someone confronts the character about their action can be excellently executed.

5.  Anticipation. I remember reading a book in high-school (don’t remember which one) where a girl was having her thumb chopped off (various political reasons leading up to it). But they announced this at the beginning of the chapter. Guy has hold of the girl, blade drawn. She’s crying. Then someone else comes in and there is discussion and another speech and they keep coming back to this girl who has tears streaming down her face. The whole chapter you’re wondering – are they actually going to do this? Is she going to get away or be released? If they had made me wait to the next chapter to find out I probably would have given up reading the book because essentially nothing would have happened in the chapter, but this book was brilliantly executed. Just when you couldn’t take any more and you had to know, the answer is revealed and then the chapter ended.

What are your favourite kinds of tension to read? Or to create for the writers out there.

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The Day the Tweets Died

August 2, 2010 at 5:40 am (Author Info, Weekly Review) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

Not really. As I mentioned in a comment last week, I managed to finally hit my download limit – all legal of course. That means ridiculously slow internet until the next period which is still about a week away. Which means that twitter is just not working for me at the moment. I can see the top couple of frames, and then it times out an dies. This is also a problem for some of you with really big blogs that have a lot of stars and bells and whistles. Love them usually, at the moment, I can’t actually view them.

What it all really boils down to is I can’t do my coming to a usual round up of tweets concerning excellent blogs I’ve read, not because I haven’t read some excellent blogs, but because without the twitter list telling me where I’ve been, I don’t actually have all the links.

In lieu of having some great links, I thought I would share a few random facts about my blog.

  • Since I started this blog in November last year I’ve had just over 15000 views – though while it doesn’t count me viewing my own blog it will count you every time you visit the site so I’m certain that a lot of those views are from people I know are reading the blog regularly.
  • My worst month was April of this year (not surprisingly) with only 384 views. This could be because I didn’t post during this month due to the flood, power cuts, clean up effort and just being overwhelmed by everything else that was going on. I’m not certain, but I think that would be a good guess.
  • Twitter is my most regular referer and posts that I tweet tend to get more immediate hits than those I don’t – which is tough luck for me at the moment given I can’t tweet.
  • Most people who comment on my blog (in fact nearly all) are people I have visited first.
  • The number one search term to find my blog at the moment is still “reasons why books are better than movies” which makes the post 10 Reasons why books are better than movies and its companion post, 10 Reasons why movies are better than books, two of my most often hit posts from the past.

What did I learn from this?

If you don’t post, people don’t visit. If you don’t tell people you have posted, they won’t visit. If you don’t visit others, they won’t visit. And it really is worth using the tags and categories because sometimes really random google searches find your site.

Sorry for the lack of links, a couple of weeks and they will be back.

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I write like…

July 29, 2010 at 5:35 am (Thoughts on Writing, Voice) (, , , , , , , , , )

I finally gave in and tried this though not with an open mind and I have to admit my thoughts about this were well justified. Using the prologue from a work-in-progress I fed in various paragraphs and samples into the I Write Like site and according to it’s analysis I write like:

First 200 words: Raymond Chandler (which is an insane comparison)

Next 150 words: Douglas Adams (which is flattering but really quite untrue)

Next 150 words: Cory Doctorow (hadn’t heard of him before and had to google him to find out, no idea what his writing style is)

Next 200 words: Dan Brown (now it is just being mean to me)

Final 100 words: Stephen King (again flattering but untrue).

Now how in one prologue of just over 700 words did I manage to be that schizophrenic? And how can you possibly write like Douglas Adams and Dan Brown and Stephen King and Raymond Chandler all in one cohesive text. In case they hadn’t noticed, they have very different writing styles. extremely different. As in, if they were ant colonies they would devour one another different.

I went into this sceptical about it having any accuracy. I assumed it would make some generic assumption about your writing and spit out the name of someone famous to keep you happy and you would tweet it once, the end. What I didn’t expect was that pieces of the same text would come back with such incredibly different results which makes you wonder what exactly it is looking for in the text.

So I dropped the entire 700 words in and it came back with Cory Doctorow. But if I put the first 350 in it comes back with Raymond Chandler and the final 350 come back as Dan Brown. There doesn’t appear to be any underlying logic here.

Did this give me any insight into my writing? Not really. I’m trying to imagine Dan Brown interjecting into the middle of one of Douglas Adams’ novels and I must say it is an amusing thought but that’s about as far as it goes.

Who do I write like? I write like me and that’s all I can do.

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