I don’t write tension very well.
Tension is when I put the characters in danger and keep them there. Unfortunately, I like giving people a chance to catch their breaths, and I linger in the calm state too long. Not enough tension!
As always, the Kill Zone has an excellent article that exactly addresses what I’m trying to do.
One of my favorite books on craft, Stein on Writing, talks about the concept of the crucible, “the container that holds the characters together as things heat up.” It’s a key to successful plotting:
“Characters caught in a crucible won’t declare a truce and quit. They’re in it till the end. The key to the crucible is that the motivation of the characters to continue opposing each other is greater than their motivation to run away. Or they can’t run away because they are in a prison cell, a lifeboat, an army, or a family.”
It’s a great concept, and an excellent way to increase drama. But by promising my favorite characters a safe landing, I was creating a crucible and then providing them with ejector seats and parachutes.
That’s when I reset my mental parameters to imagine: What if anybody can die? What if any and all relationships—family, friends, lovers—can be ripped apart by events and choices? And once I put it all on the table, I saw a more powerful way to write fiction. I opened myself to creating stories that went to the end of the line.
So as I’m sitting here staring at my new outline for Spacetime’s fifth draft, I’m asking myself, how to raise the tension? How to heat up that crucible and ramp up the stakes?
My critique group has given me some great ideas. And looking over my outline, I see where some great ideas were introduced early on that never went anywhere. Like the Deathwalkers. They disappear after chapter 4, and I ask myself, why? Why don’t the bad guys summon an army of the things and swarm Phoenix with them?
Why did I not use the Time Bombs in this draft?
Why doesn’t the climax consist of a high speed chase with falling debris and attacking monsters?
Why didn’t the Council Police hunt down the heroes for saving the werewolf from execution?
Why does the lizard addicted to shiny things never steal the hero’s medallion?
And, scariest of all, who do I want to kill off?
Most of the heroes have sequels planned for them, so they can’t die off just yet. But it does give me something to think about.