Friday, October 8, 2010

Stretching the Tension

When writing the first draft, the author is often in a discovery phase. This can lead to slogging and over descriptive passages that bog down the story. It's fine to have the saggy middle in the first draft, because the rough draft is laying down the plot. Revising and editing a book is the time to tighten up, firm up, and get rid of the excess flab.
photo credit: (http://www.dafyddjones.com/ssp/albums/album-3/lg/Sagging-Roof-Bodie.jpg)


Suzanne Pitner is a font of useful writing info. She is a teacher, a published author, and a contributing writer at suite101. For more info about her and to find her articles, go here to her homepage.

One of my favorites is an article she posted on the "sagging middle syndrome" we are often plagued by in our stories. She tells us that tension comes in many forms:
  • Physical tension, action. (She swung a hammer at his head.)
  • Emotional tension, thoughts, feelings. (Her anger boiled inside her and she felt her fists clenching, her nails digging ditches in her palms.)
  • A sense of impending doom. (The principal called me into her office. Thunder rumbled outside in the darkening sky.)
  • A sense of anticipation. (Sarah saw John looking in the jeweler's window as she rode by on the 5:30 p.m. bus. She took a hopeful breath, patted her hair, and freshened her lipstick. Perhaps tonight would be the night.)
In her article, she shares exercises and tips to help tighten our plots, stretch the tension, and avoid the sagging middle. If you are concerned about the tension in your novel or about how well it is distributed throughout your story, go read her article and try some of her suggestions.

Do you have a favorite strategy to stretch and tighten the tension in your stories?

23 comments:

Catherine Denton said...

I am terrible at stretching the tension. I will definitely be reading this article!

Tamika: said...

Thanks for the link, I'm checking it out:) I'm in the tightening phase now, so this will be a helpful tool!

Tere Kirkland said...

Thanks for the quote! It makes me feel so much better about my own sagging middle.

Tension for me is all about pacing, so I don't worry about it during the first draft, but I like to make sure the reader has enough time to process what's happening, but not drag it out too long.

Great post!

Misha said...

Thanks for the link! :-)

Candyland said...

Yes. Stop writing. Then go back to it when continuing is all you can think about.

paulgreci said...

Thanks for the tips and the link.
One question I ask myself to increase the tension is: How can I make things worse for my Main Character?

Karen Lange said...

Good post! Love the photo - it works perfectly with this!
Have a great weekend,
Karen

C. N. Nevets said...

I work a lot with small-scale pacing and the structure of my sentences and paragraphs. It's amazing how much impact controlled, intentional variance in length, shape, syntax, and so forth can really drive the reader's experience of the moment.

The use of repetition or rhythmic patterning also helps keep a beat that you can use to control the tension.

Typically, I create a positive correlation between proximity to the object of the tension and self-absorption or distraction of the characters. Also, frequently an inverse relationship between proximity and character coherence.

Melissa said...

This is an excellent post. I definitely need to check out these links you've given us to read more. Sounds like a wealth of good information.

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

I LOVE books with tension. Seriously, one of my favorite things.

Talei said...

Hi Shannon, I have an award for you at my blog - please do stop by when you can. :)

L.T. Elliot said...

I'm trying to work on that kind of tension. I hope I pull it off! I'll have to read more of her articles!

Carolyn V. said...

I find if I put my wip away for a while and then come back to it, I find all kinds of things that need to be fixed and tightened up. But I need that separation for a while. =)

DLCurran said...

Thanks for the link - stretching the tension is always something I need to do better. Advice is always welcome! :)

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Thanks for the tips and the link...I need all the advice I can get....

Have a wonderful weekend!

~Sia McKye~ said...

Shannon, thanks for sharing the links to Susan's articles. I like what you have here as far as creating tension.

I tend to be a perfectionist. I want it good on the first pass. That's not reality though and it tends to stifle creativity. I've had to learn to let go. Forget about everything but getting the story on the page. Then I can go back and fix or tighten.

Excellent reminder, thank you!

Theresa Milstein said...

I try to avoid scenes that don't move the story forward. Everything has to have a purpose and I hope the keep the tension pretty constant. I used to have more problems with middles than I do now.

Love the picture you used! Perfect.

How do you like Reckless so far? I'm several pages in. The cover, the inside jacket description, and first paragraph sold me.

Lenny Lee! said...

hi miss shannon! that real good stuff. i didnt ever think about that sagging middle. i like learning how to make my writing lots better and this is a real big help.
...hugs from lenny

Patti Lacy said...

Just continual unexpected problems that organically develop. And that is the hard part for me...

Blessings,
Patti

Mary Campbell said...

I'm still working on my first draft, but I think I've done well avoiding the sagging middle - at least I hope so. Thank you for the link to the article I'll have to check it out.

beth said...

I love this! I've been having a hard time with edits. I guess my book is just on a diet.

Suzanne said...

Thanks so much for the links to my articles. I'm glad they're helpful to other writers, because that's what it's all about. Now, back to writing...

Heather said...

This sounds like great advice. To keep the tension ratcheted up I try to make each chapter a little more tense than the last. I'm off to check out the links!

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