On Writing: Tension

Hello, everyone ─ and happy last day of August! September’s just around the bend, and I don’t know about any of you, but once those ’ember’s come along I get this cozy feeling inside with images of bread baking, chai, PUMPKINS . . . I could really go on and on. If cooler days are coming, and since it’s inevitable, we might as well focus on the delightful parts, no?

Today I’m going to share a bit about something I recently read in one of my writing books (yes, after seven volumes I’m finally actively studying how to write a novel the ‘right way’). Now, this book I’m reading is called Writing Lessons from the Front by Dr. Angela Hunt, a successful author of over 130 works. She also teaches writing (hence this book), and so far I have found great advice and some real brain exercises. Lots of things to keep in mind that I’ve never thought of before.

So apparently, in writing, there is a method to the madness.

The bit I’m going to share with you today is on ‘tension’, and the concept is that tension must exist on every page in order to keep readers reading. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean that every page needs to be packed with drama or thrills. The simple concept is ‘unanswered questions’. No, they aren’t supposed to remain unanswered, but stretching out the time between when the question is asked and when it is answered is the tension. It’s like a sandwich:

Question asked  >  time of tension/waiting  > question answered

Say Peter, James, and Martha are hanging out at the top of a cliff (a very precarious venue, by the way) and Peter falls off the edge into the ocean thirty feet below, to the abject horror of his compatriots. IS HE STILL ALIVE? (question asked). James and Martha can’t see him so they race to the shore at the bottom of the cliff (waiting), where they find Peter in the surf.

Let’s stop there for a moment and talk more about the waiting period. Sure, it’s fine enough to say that they ‘raced to the shore at the bottom of the cliff’, but that in and of itself is not a very tense moment. So what do we do? Trip them up! Place obstacles in front of James and Martha to slow them down, frustrate them as they try desperately to get the shore in time ─ if it’s not already too late, of course. After all, hitting the water from a thirty foot drop is perilous. Not to mention that Peter can’t swim, as Martha hysterically informs James while they dash forth. (There could be several reasons why James was never in the know about Peter’s inability to tread water, but that’s not where we’re going at the moment).

We have our first ‘obstacle:

  • Peter can’t swim

Let’s add some more trouble:

  • The vegetation at the back of the cliff is thick ad tangly, slowing their descent.
  • Maybe they find a sudden drop in the slop and they have to decide whether to risk jumping or backtrack to find a different route.
  • One of them slips on a randomly discarded banana peel and takes a tumble (earning some scrapes and bruises, of course).

That is some ordeal! Who would be so rude as to throw away their banana peel like that? (Maybe Peter tossed it after they ate their lunch?) Battered and breathless, James and Martha break through the mini crucible to the beach, struggling to run through the shifting sand, and finally make it to the water. James spots the orange shirt first, bobbing in the foamy brine, and hastens to pull his friend out. Behind him, Martha is close to tears. Battered by the waves, James can’t determine Peter’s condition, so the two of them haul his limp form to the shore. He’s cold to the touch, but couldn’t that be just from the water? Martha can’t find a pulse, but she’s shaking too much to rightly tell. James pumps on Peter’s chest and slaps his face.

At this point the question of ‘Is Peter still alive?’ remains unanswered. Right about now would be a good time to insert a section break or end the chapter, when the tension is highest ─ just before the question is answered. This would prompt a reader to forge ahead and find out whatever happened to Peter. Were I evil, I could stop here and refrain from telling you until my next post, but I’m not always as heartless as I’ve been accused of being and will answer the question:

James was on the verge of giving up when Peter’s body convulsed. Salt water spewed out of his mouth between gasping breaths and lung-raking coughs. Martha burst into tears, and James felt dizzy with relief. Etc, etc. The point is PETER IS, IN FACT, ALIVE!

In summation, the space between when a question is asked and when that question is answered is the home of ‘tension’, the fishing line that tugs on a reader to keep reading in order to find out what happens.


To learn more about Dr. Angela Hunt and her plethora of books, visit her website  — and add some titles to your reading list on Goodreads!

Reynwood’s Reviews: Jungle Tales of Tarzan

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Title: Jungle Tales of Tarzan

Series: Tarzan, #6

Author: Edgar Rice Burroughs

My rating: 4 0f 5


Glorious tales of Tarzan’s early growth to manhood in the forest…
Tarzan, the heart of primeval Africa, escapes death on the horn of Buto the rhinoceros, saves the life of Tantor the elephant, sends the witchdoctor Bukawai to a terrible death, battle victoriously with his arch-enemy Numa the Lion, and slowly but surely fights his way to a mastery of his savage, unforgiving jungle.


My thoughts:

I fell in love with the story of Tarzan when I saw the Disney movie an age and a half ago, and got very excited when I recently found this book at a thrift store. I didn’t know at the time that this was a small part of a series of stories about Tarzan (and it’s pretty extensive, numbering 27 volumes). I felt the ‘dropped into the middle’ confusion, in having not read the preceding stories to explain current events more clearly, but bits and pieces were filled in as each tale progressed.

As is per usual, the Disney adaption is nothing like the original, but in my opinion neither one is better than the other. Tarzan is more of an incubus in the books, and it’s interesting to see the take on an human’s inquisitive mind when largely isolated from mankind and raised by apes. Not gorillas. Apes. There are native Africans in these tales, too, to which Tarzan is absolutely devilish due to an enmity I will not divulge. You might have a better idea if you’ve seen the most recent Tarzan film, The Legend of Tarzan, I believe it is. 

Each chapter is its own, self-contained story, adventures and exploits of our wild ‘ape-man’, and I found them fun — if not a little far-fetched at times. Nevertheless, I am certainly more than willing to go back and start from the beginning of this series!


Find out more about Edgar Rice Burroughs and his stories (which include the infamous Barsoom tales of John Carter on Mars!) on Goodreads!

A Peek into the ‘Other Life’

Hello, everyone! It’s only been about two weeks since my last post here, but it seems like forever ago! Time moves in mysterious ways. How has your August been, so far? Over here in our little corner of Arcadia it’s rained more days than not — quite a turnaround from last year, I’ll say! I’ve heard it said that the weather is bipolar, and in some respects I think I might have to agree. Nevertheless, though we had a late start on the planting season, things are coming along fairly plentiful. We’ve been drowning in green beans, cucumbers, and zucchini for some weeks — and now the peaches are ready!

With so much going on around here, I thought I’d share a bit of my off-writing life with you, so you know I’m not as one-dimensional as I’ve been making myself out to be. I do more than write!

So, for starters, I live on a wee farm, as many of you may already know and probably could have guessed. This season I learned how to use a pressure caner for the first time and have squirreled away a number of pints of green beans. I’d have done more, but ran out of wide mouth pint jars. Super bummer.

Yesterday I spent the evening hours canning peaches! I love canning things, and it is my firm belief that one of the world’s most beautiful sounds is the popping of a sealed jar.

Are they not gorgeous? I’ve got regular and spiced. Over the past few days of prepping food for processing I’ve acquired a nice pair of sliced thumbs. It is a most worthy sacrifice. Next on my list is spiced peach jam and bread and butter pickles. Mmmm . . .

 

One of our beloved peach trees.

As for today, it was time to pick more of those cucumbers, zucchini, and green beans.

Cucumbers up the ying-yang. They’re good sliced with a sprinkle of sea salt. Or pickled. Pickled is good.
A basket full of produce. Much more and I’ll become a basket case.
In the process of cleaning more green beans. I think I’ll try roasting them for dinner tonight.

I also made a bundt cake out of one of our zucchini for dessert — can’t not look forward to that!

And there you have it, a glimpse of my ‘other life’, which, as it happens, can some days take up an entire day, whereby I miss writing entirely, but such is life, and I can’t say I don’t love it.