Friday, October 19, 2018

Creating and Maintaining Tension in Your Writing

High Tension Wires
Tension, i.e., some kind of conflict is what moves your story forward be it fantasy, romance, or anything in between.

If you are writing crime fiction, as I normally do, a murder likely jump starts the story, and tension naturally builds throughout the telling.  Or does it?    Right now I am struggling with this very concept.  And there's a murder on page 3.  How could this be a problem?

I'm writing in two time periods:   1953 and 2018. Both periods are set during and just after the wheat harvest.  My characters are a woman and her granddaughter.  The woman, Lizzie, is a forty-year-old Mennonite widow in south central Kansas.  She has been a near witness to the murder, and tension and conflict are not difficult to maintain, even among the peace-loving Mennonites in her small town.

Beth, Lizzie's granddaughter, has inherited her grandmother's bungalow in the town, and has recently  arrived there to write a book about the Great Plains.  She has just escaped an abusive relationship and is getting acquainted with her "new" family.  She is very committed to maintaining good relations with them.  She wants to make new friends, and she's treading carefully. The Mennonites are peaceful, religious people and take her under their wing.  So in the early days of Beth's story, there is minimal tension and I am trying to increase it.
1) Beth hopes her ex-boyfriend will not be able to find her, but her father reports getting phone calls asking about her.
2)  She hires a man  to do some drone photography for her book, and it's a man the Mennonites have asked to leave the church.
3)  An old woman, a surviving friend of her grandmothers wants to tell Beth all sorts of family secrets.  Her "new" family has warned her about associating with the old woman.  Beth wants to be friendly to the old lady but without listening to any unwanted confessions. 
 4) A somewhat indifferent cook, Beth has been roped in to helping feed the "threshers," the itinerant men who harvest the wheat.  Will her brownies, coleslaw, and mac and cheese be up to snuff in the   family of prize-winning cooks?

Most of these tensions are not earth-shaking until the evil ex-boyfriend tracks her down, a local man makes a deathbed confession that her grandmother had helped the police arrest the wrong man, and her father doubts his paternity and wants her to take a DNA test.   This will test Beth to the limit--a few chapters down the line.  In the meantime?

How do YOU create and maintain tension while setting up the story and getting your ducks in a row? This has never been a problem until now.

Fortunately, the chapters between  1953 and  2018 alternate, so I will have to arrange to have cliffhangers in one chapter or another.  Tension here.  Conflict there.  Beth's father will add to the tension, but that's a few scenes down the road.   I need some tension NOW.

My writing group had some excellent ideas which sparked some of my own.  The past story will soon inform the present, but not just yet.  Depending on. your story, it can  difficult to set up the plot and get your ducks in a row and still create tension and conflict.        

Novelette available on Amazon 

Lots of tension and conflict in The Meth House, as you might expect.

These great authors will all have something trenchant to say about the subject of creating tension.

Beverley Bateman
Anne Stenhouse
Skye Taylor
A.J. Maguire
Dr. Bob Rich
Helena Fairfax
Diane Bator
Rhobin L Courtright


Rhobin Lee Courtright said...

Wow, Judith, for a work in progress you all ready have me hooked. Great ideas.

Dr Bob Rich said...

I think you have given your young woman several sources of tension. She could have dreams and flashbacks to the past abuse, and there are the internal tensions you've described, like the conflict between going against the community in her associations.

Beverley Bateman said...

I enjoyed your post. Interesting about the challenge of conflict and tension between the time periods.

Anne Stenhouse said...

Hi Judy, Well, I think you've got loads of excellent tension building up in the granddaughter's story. Good luck with it. anne

Diane Bator said...

Sounds like an interesting book. I like the cover!