Saturday, January 15, 2011

Creating Tension

Tension is one of the most important parts of the novel. The goals, motivations and conflicts that the main character finds herself in the middle of mean nothing if they don't also create tension.  Donald Maass, who wrote The Breakout Novel, says this about tension:  In dialogue, tension means disagreement.  In action, it means not physical business bu the inner anxiety of the point-of-view character.  In exposition, it means ideas in conflict and emotions at war.

To simplify it more than it should be, it is basically opposition of one kind or another.  For example:
a)  Your main character has an external goal which somehow conflicts with an internal goal;
b)  Perhaps she has two external goals, but can only even attempt to accomplish one, so she has to choose between the two but she wants both of them equally;
c)  Someone she loves, or is close to ( best friends) wants the same thing she wants; along with this idea rests
d)  Achieving her goal ( winning the boy) would hurt someone else ( her BFF), or would be doing something that her conscience or her own sense of values would not allow;
e) Your MC starts the novel out wrestling with some kind of dilemma, which could be either internal or external, but which leads to the question of how, when, or if she is going to resolve the problem.

There are many ways to create tension, but no matter how you do it, it has to be something that follows in the footsteps, so to speak, of your GMC.  It must be believable, it must be something that occurs naturally to or with your MC, and it must have some kind of compelling reason for the circumstances to occur which lead to the tension.

One example that I've read over and over about "tension" is that of Romeo and Juliet.  Romeo is in love with Juliet but knows that if continues to pursue her, he is going against his family, whom he also loves.  But his love for her is too great for him to ignore and to give her up.  So no matter which course of action he decides upon, someone, including him, is going to be hurt.  Now that is Tension!

As your story goes along, you can create more tension by having your MC solve one problem, or overcome one obstacle standing in the way of her achieving her goal, only to have another problem or obstacle pop up in front of her.  Perhaps this one is not only different, but more difficult for her to overcome.  Each succeeding problem she solves should lead to just one more obstacle, until finally your climax occurs, the resolution follows, and both MC and reader can take a deep breath.  The more opposing factors there are in a novel, the more tension is created; the more tension created, the more the story is moved forward, and the more compelling the story becomes for the reader.

Along with this tension/obstacle/problem solving, don't forget that your MC needs to show a change in her feelings and her attitudes.  Another word for this is Growth.  As she goes along, she needs to show growth in her character.  If she doesn't feel or show any kind of change in her makeup, then the whole work has been for nothing, because nothing has impacted the MC.

In closing, remember that your GMC must lead to T or Tension.  The MC's goals must be realistic and achievable, her motivation must be strong enough to overcome obstacles, the conflicts must also be believable and must arise, hopefully, from both external AND internal choices, and all of this must lead to realistic circumstances that create tension.

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A New Year, A New Novel?

Does a new year bring with it new ideas for stories, novels, non-fiction articles?  Or does it just bring a new resolve to finish what you had started last year?  Wit me, it's a little of both...and that's probably how it is with most writers. 

If you are going to begin a new story line, for a novel or otherwise, is it something you've had brewing in your mind for awhile, or has it come as a flash of inspiration from your muse?  Either is good, but sometimes that little muse can get in the way of a well-thought out plan before you begin.  I don't necessarily mean outlining before you begin, because that's something I don't do.  But have you thought out the GMCT of your story before beginning?

Okay, you ask, just what is GMCT? I thought you'd never ask!  GMCT stands for Goal, Motivation, Conflict, and Tension. The first three should always be in any story of any length, and to make it better, you should be able to add Tension.

GMC is the heart and soul of any good story, and the concept has to apply to the MC, but to make the story more interesting, and surely more believable, you need to apply them to at least one of your main secondary characters.  To make the story even more exciting, the GMC of the major secondary characters should clash with that of the MC.  Perhaps they both have the same goal...say, of attracting the handsome high school sports hero, but their motivations are different, even opposing.  This brings up much external conflict, but suppose the MC and the major SC are best friends...what happens then to the internal conflict of each one?  And at the climax, what has the MC had to go through, give up, or change in her own behavior and attitudes ( growth) to achieve...or not...her goal?

To recap:
(G)oal is what the MC wants in order for the story to move forward.  It must be difficult or seemingly impossible for her to achieve, because of the problems and obstacles that get in her way.
(M)otivation is what drives the MC forward to get what she wants.  The reason or reasons for her to be willing to do just about anything must be logical and believable in terms of her being physically, emotionally, or mentally capable.
(C)onflict arises when she comes face to face with the obstacles which stand in the way of her achieving her goal.  These obstacles could be physical, in terms of a person, place or a situation; they could be emotional, in terms of her feelings about something, or her conscience; they could be mental, in terms of her not having, at the moment, the intellectual ability or knowledge she needs; or these obstacles could be any combination of the above.

Using the example above, what kinds of external and internal conflict could be more believable than that of two friends fighting over the same boy?  And with teens especially, the conflict is going to be elevated to great heights, as all problems with teens are exaggerated.  That in turn leads to the T in the GMCT formula...Tension.

Tomorrow, I'll talk more about Tension and what it means to a novel.

Until then,
That's a wrap.