If we create suspense and sustain tension during the plotting and drafting stages, then we save truckloads of time on revisions.
Try one or more of these to sustain tension
- Keep the story goal and central conflict front and centre, with a hint at the start of each scene, so readers remember what matters most deeply to our point of view character.
- Within the parameters of genre, establish that anything can happen. If the author has something unthinkable happen at the start, within the genre’s context, that raises the tension. Readers never feel a hopeful young squire is safe just because he’s young and hopeful. See the first scene of George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones.
- Remove tension killers. Capote said, “I believe more in the scissors than in the pen.” Check ends of scenes and chapters, make sure there’s no sentence that seems to finish things off.
More on tension and suspense next post. In the meantime, I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week. Cheers, Mel.
If you enjoy Mel Anastasiou’s writing tips, you might try her pocket-sized writing guide The Writer’s Boon Companion: Thirty Days Towards an Extraordinary Volume. Motivates, organizes, encourages, inspires.
From Pulp Literature Press
I’m a great admirer of authors who make exceptional use of supporting characters. A cast of extras is fun to write, of course. And supporting characters can say with charm, or the complete lack of it, what the character wouldn’t. But their magic goes deeper than that. Here are three steps farther than snappy dialogue…
1. We should hear a supporting character state the theme of the story early on, as in Robert Sawyer’s brilliant “Fallen Angel”, where the father tells his daughter Angela that there was nothing to fear. “We’ll be so high up we’ll catch God’s eye.’’ But she does fear, and the story turns on her fear and what she does because of it.
2. Supporting characters force the protagonist to show the readers his heroic qualities in contrast with their less heroic aspects. They make sure we don’t miss the hero’s flaws, either. Take a look at the many Brothers who have taken the Black on the Wall in Martin’s Game of Thrones series. Their leader Jon Snow is so remarkably steadfast and true that it takes an army of supporting characters to bring out his weaknesses.
3. Supporting characters at their best force the protagonist – and antagonist – to make choices they would not have faced on their own, no matter how stubborn or brave they might be. I was just re-reading (for about the fiftieth time since I got it in my stocking at fourteen) Bel Kaufman’s amazing Up the Down Staircase. There’s not a character in there that doesn’t force young teacher Sylvia Barrett to make agonizing choices. That’s pretty rare craft in a book told through notes, letters, memos, and scribbles on the backboard.
What can your supporting characters do for your protagonist?
Robert Sawyer. Fallen Angel. Pulp Literature Press, Issue 7. Vancouver, 2014.
GRR Martin. A Game of Thrones. Bantam, 1996.
Bel Kaufman. Up the Down Staircase. Avon Books, New York. 1964.