Sunday, January 20, 2008

TENSION....just what the doctor ordered?

Tension in real-life isn't healthy. Tension in a novel, however, is what triggers readers to keep turning pages, and it adds interest and spice to any story. Not just suspense, fantasy, sci-fi, or mystery--it's good writing in general.

For instance, what about a straight inspirational (or secular) romance? A good romance sparked with tension. If the tension between the hero and heroine resolves too early in the story, a reader is likely lay the book down and not pick it up again, because the story is over for her!

Subplots help keep the tension (and level of interest) going all the way through. If one phase of a subplot is resolved, something else needs to take over--the main external conflict, or the relationship between the hero and heroine. Something else to keep the reader on the edge of her seat!

Give the reader tension over stakes that not only matter, but that are increasing, and you've given her a story worth reading. Anything else will be too boring to hold her attention.

A hint--beware the lack of white space. Count the number of pages you go without dialogue. If you go more than a couple, you should probably take a hard look at what is happening. Are you telling information instead of showing action and conflict and emotion through the on-scene interactions of your characters? Droning on and on about backstory? Long passages of narrative, unless done very skillfully, are what readers skip! This is one of the most glaring technical flaws that I see when I judge contests--and it’s the easiest to fix!

How many of you have read Gone with the Wind? How many times? After a few times, did you start skipping any parts? GWTW is an amazing novel on many levels, but if you did start to skip any passages after reading it more than once, I'll lay odds that it was the long passages of narrative. The first few times, I re-read it all. An amazing book....but , then, I started reading for the wonderful characters and the emotion and conflicts.

A few years back, Harlequin/Silhouette held focus group meetings with various authors at one of the national RWA conferences. They asked us to talk to readers and bookstore owners, and bring them feedback on the line we wrote for. I ended up giving them a twenty-page summary of the info I gathered on readers' preferences. One of the comments that I heard many times over: "I skip over pages that don’t have much white space. I want to read about the people! The romance! The action between characters!"

So...if you are writing a manuscript, stop right now and take a look. Are you keeping the tension high? Looking forward to seeing you next week!

Roxanne Rustand

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