Saturday, August 08, 2009

Micro-tension--Hanging on your every word

Micro-tension——the art of building tension or conflict in every scene to make the reader care about what happens at the end of the chapter, the end of the scene or even the end of the sentence to keep them turning pages.

Do you mean I have to make every scene, every page, every stinking word fraught with tension? How in the world am I supposed to do that?

We’ve all read books that fall flat while we are reading, even action thrillers that seem to have no action. How does this happen? What has the author done wrong or is it the reader's own personal taste? Either way, what as writers can we learn from the mistakes of others?

Regardless of what is going on in the scene, there should be tension in the scene to make the reader care about the character and what is going on with him or her. Even if the character is alone in a room, contemplating her next move, the scene should move the story forward. There should be something for the character to gain or lose in this scene.

Ask yourself--Does this scene belong here? Can it be revamped to make it more interesting to the reader? Should it be scrapped or rewritten altogether?

While keeping tension on every page can seem like a daunting task for the writer, it doesn't have to be. We are also readers. In the next book you read for pleasure, examine the book and see what keeps you as the reader turning pages. Why do you care about the situation, the characters?

I once read a book whose author obviously cared a great deal and knew a great deal about art forgeries. The book was not about the art world. One of the book's minor characters worked in a museum. In every scene including this character he discussed how to detect a forgery or a famous piece of art.

I couldn’t have cared less. The book was a mystery that had nothing to do with art. If not for this one character who happened to work in a museum, art never would’ve been mentioned in the book. But because it interested the author, each scene with this character involved art.

It got to the point that every time I saw this character’s name, I skimmed down the page to the end of the scene and then picked the story back up where the author left off.

Those scenes never should’ve been included in the book. If I hadn’t been so interested in the rest of the story, I probably would’ve stopped reading. In fact I can't remember a single thing about that book except how the writer kept taking me out of the story over and over again by telling me about her passion. I have never read another of her books either.

Study a few books that hold your interest all the way to the end. What is it about them that keeps you turning pages? Now go through a few random scenes of you own story as a reader. Is there micro-tension on every page, in every line? Is there something to be gained or lost by the character that will affect the outcome of the scene or the book?

Pack your book with tension. You may find a scene endearing or brilliant, but it will annoy the reader if he senses no tension or conflict. You can alienate readers for future works as well, so keep them turning pages and hanging on your every word.

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