Thursday, August 27, 2020

Take a break to add tension

This week has been a busy one. School kicks off, in a hybrid version, I published a pedagogy article, and got about 3,000 words of fiction written. I enjoyed the suspense/tension thread weaving through the Type M posts this past week as well, and will add to it here.

When my writing is going well, the experience is similar, in some ways, to Donis’s description, but less obvious to those around me. My daughter once said, “I thought you said you were writing. All I see you do is stare at the wall.” Like Donis, dialogue is being spoken, only for me it’s more like watching the movie I will later attempt to transcribe in a way that effectively gets the words from the scene in my head onto the page.

Raymond Chandler once said, (I’m paraphrasing), When things get dull, have someone walk in with a gun. I take Chandler at his word. I’ve written about this before, but I have a (tiny) outline when I begin. Often times, though, I deviate. Or, rather, the story deviates. And it’s usually for the best. For me, plot stems from character, and I try to give characters room to grow. So my outline might not remain intact.

I’m interested in the intersection of plot and tension. When I read Raymond Chandler, I marvel at the free-wheeling feel of it all. But there is a clear structure, too. A typical Chandler novel has Marlowe sitting down every hundred pages or so to think his way through the events, to date. Seated at the lunch counter, he ticks off the events and reviews questions posed by the mystery. Then another person walks in with a gun, and we’re off and running again.

I’d argue that these moments of reflection not only add clarity to the plot but by allowing readers to come up for air and process all that has occurred these breaks add to the story’s tension, allowing readers to feel the full weight of the story’s events.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be formulaic or predictable. I think of the Spenser series and Parker’s use of alternative chapters/scenes between the mystery and the homelife of Spenser and Susan. Spenser’s domestic life added levity and down time for readers and, at least for this reader, were welcomed breaks from the primary plot line.

As always, I’d love to hear what others think about all of this.

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