Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Tension and Release, by Paula Rose

 Now back to the art of writing!

Since two of the elements which keep readers of historical fiction wed to that genre are tension and release because the emotional leap frog between protagonist and antagonist keeps them engaged, some novice writers might think these tools belong to that genre. However, all types of fiction use these elements, including SiFi and Fantasy for all fiction writers and readers enjoy and need drama in their stories. Both Star Wars and Pride and Prejudice use these tools. One of the first examples of this in Star Wars is the emotional play between Luke and Han Solo who both want Princess Leia’s attention. Those who consider Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice the gold standard might find my mentioning these two diverse stories in the same paragraph odd. Yet the writer of each used tension and release thereby creating an emotionally satisfying experience, and given the scope of difference between the two examples cited above, I know that you can do it too! All you need now are the steps…so let’s begin there.

Step One – Tension can be either positive or negative. It’s created when the reader knows what the character, usually the protagonist (hero or heroine) needs or wants. Postponing what is wanted or needed creates some tension. Placing an adversary (antagonist) or a situation that cannot be changed or run away from like a horrid secret in the story adds stress heightening the tension. If the protagonist fears that someone knows or will discover their secret the tension intensifies.

Step Two – Release can be achieved in many ways. It could be done by letting the reader see that what the protagonist wants is within reach. Perhaps your protagonist thinks about choosing something else. The protagonists thought life, imaginary friend, or achieving a goal can give a sense of release. Wishing to be someone else and fanaticizing how nice that would be can create release. Adding humor releases tension especially if the protagonist sees the humor within their awful situation. For release to work, it must be believable given the tension that precedes it. That said, in some situations release many come from either running away, or the protagonist daydreaming that they’re someone else or are somewhere else. Unless your book is written in the first person (protagonist’s point of view – POV only), scenes that don’t include your protagonist can create release because the tension diminishes when the protagonist is out of the picture unless people  are plotting against them or situations develop that escalate the tension when they discover what happened while they were gone.

The Critical Step: The Negotiation of the Negotiation - To write a page turner, keep tension on every page. Simply put building the drama heightens the tension. The negation of the negation builds to the climax, which most believe should occur about three fourths of the way into your novel or sooner if absolutely necessary unless you’re writing a cliffhanger that’s part of a series or saga. To build the negation put obstacles in the way, which seem insurmountable but can be overcome if the protagonist changes thereby negating themselves, or chooses not to thereby creating more tension giving the reader a memorable ride they’ll tell others about! Although some authors shy away from using the protagonists thought life, this is an area that can be developed and mind for tension and release since each character internal thoughts contain these elements. A good example of this occurs when Darth Vader tells Luke he’s his father. What we see on the screen is the internal fight Luke goes through. Here he wins by negating the negation, thus becoming more himself than he was before. The opposite is seen in the last movie when Anakin Skywalker chooses the dark side. Both characters choices continue to play out throughout the remainder of the film(s) as we continue to enjoy the tension and release of their choices, and for those Star Wars fans who’ve watched the saga a second time, knowing what’s about to happen increases this e-ticket ride!

An Important Minor Character - When the tension and release are so palatable it’s almost too much to bear, use a minor but recurring character to give the reader a restbit before they continue. In Star Wars George Lucas used c3po for levity. Shakespeare’s dramatic plays like Macbeth and King Lear used minor characters this way for tension uninterrupted can become unbearable as is best experienced in the movie “Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" 

Putting it all together – Keep tension whether positive or negative on every page. Whatever the antagonist is going through keep making it worse and worse, or for an added twist make it appear better and better while the reader knows what’s happening is getting worse and worse for the protagonist thus heighten the drama by using every emotion you can (there are list of emotions on every search engine), yet play the tension in and out by using minor characters.

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