Sunday, September 11, 2016

How to: Increase tension?

How do you go from writing a scene where it is sunny, nice, blue sky, ocean, freedom, peaceful, happy to TENSION MADNESS PANIC! ???

What I have found through experience, especially listening to others' opinions in Writers' Workshops on stories that need tension, the most suggested was to shorten sentences.

Now, just saying shortened sentences might not give you much here is an example from my own novel.

To explain, it is a dance scene, a jig to be exact, and the MC is dancing in the middle of a circle of people. It's a "How long can you dance?" dance off. This village does this every autumn.

[ He could feel his Chunky about to burst from his shirt. Usually he was very self-conscious about this but today was different. It was the Festive Jig and he would dance them all.

He kicked up his knees. His feet keeping rhythm with the music as it got faster and faster then suddenly slow and then fast again. The fiddler’s tunes made him want to move fast, his heart pounded and sweat rained down his forehead and soaked his collar. A drop of sweat dripped onto his bottom lip. He licked it off tasting the saltiness. He left his spot and danced around the ring, touching hands with those who held them out cheering him on.

“Oo, oo, ya!” they cheered as he skipped around. “Oo, oo, ya!”

There was a fever in the air. The villagers began to stomp their feet. He could feel the tremors in the ground and turned around and around. The village became a blur as he spinned. He kicked his legs up, stomped his feet, crossed them and twirled, jumped in the air and landing on the ground with his legs apart. Then he put his arms in the air and started up his footwork again, crossing his feet back and forth quickly. ]

~~N. J. Folettia copyrighted, 2016~~
(If you copy this though, someone will ask you what music he danced to and you wouldn't know what to say. You also wouldn't know what Festival it is. And it is NOT the Autumn Festival.)

Even though this is a dancing scene you can (hopefully) feel the dancing. Another way to increase tension is to increase verbs.

He twirled. Skipped, and jumped in place. There was cheer, another man down! Belome was sweating. The sweat poured into the collar of his shirt. He left his spot to dance around the ring. Hands reached out and he slapped them as he skipped by.

See the verbs in there? Tension usually has lots of verbs, or so I've found. Even if it was a scene where they aren't dancing, there is one where Belome (the MC)'s brother corners him in a storage shed.

Belome had been talking to his brother about the upcoming festival and then recalls the last one, making a joke about it and laughing, wanting his brother to laugh with him. But his brother slowly walks over and shoves a very pointy stick in his face, one that he had been carving when Belome found him. His brother is angry that Belome took the main family job meant for the first born son. He shoves the stick up against his throat...

Transition from peacefulness to TENSIONS is important to make the tensions more prominent. Peacefull...peacefull...then gradually gradually colder and colder.

It's even better if the reader knew from previous parts the tensions between one character and the other. That way we can sort of be expecting something to happen but we are never sure when it will happen.

So, how to increase tensions?

Shorter sentences: and I forgot to mention but, sparser description. In tension scenes, detailed description becomes unimportant.

Verb it up, Scotty! (Beam me up, Scotty, Star Trek reference): Put lots of verbs in your sentences.

Transition is key: Peaceful...peaceful...colder...colder...OMG!

Happy Writing! :D

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