Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Tick--Tick--Tension: Setting the Clock

By James R. Tuck, @JamesTuckwriter

Part of the How They Do It Series
(Monthly contributor)

Story is about tension.

Conflict, its resolution, and the build up to that. Sometimes your story is about the tension between characters, sometimes it is the tension between a characters actions and the oncoming consequences, sometimes the tension comes from the circumstances the plot has put your characters in.

Tension occurs when you inform the reader that something is going to change, to be revealed, or even be destroyed. As the author you set a ticking time clock on the story and that knowledge will keep your reader turning pages.

Have you ever been writing and feel like you are simply typing words? That your sentences are going to resound in the readers minds as: “blah, blah, BLAH”?

You need more tension.

Even if you aren't writing a thriller or an action book you need tension. All genres do. Now if you are lucky enough to be working in a genre that allows it (thriller, crime, horror, urban fantasy, and scifi/fantasy) you can set an actual ticking clock on your story. You can create a situation where your character has a certain amount of time to accomplish a task or there will be dire consequences. Your ex-CIA operative must diffuse the bomb with only 20 seconds on the clock. Your teenage protagonist just has to survive until the sun comes up and the monster goes away. Your swords-woman has only as long as it takes the candle to burn through the rope holding the guillotine blade off the Prince's throat to cut her way to him across a sea of barbarians.

But how do you set a clock ticking on a quieter book?

There is a genre that does the ticking clock in softer, subtler situations than bombs and sword fights and vampires in the night. Romance. Look to the romance genre and see how character tension works. They masterfully pit one character's desires and needs against another with a time limit. One character wants to be with the other, but can't because of something inside them. You could go on like this forever, will they/won't they, but the reader will put the book down without the added tension.

A savvy author will add the time factor. The heroine is scheduled to marry another. The hero has some terminal disease. War is coming to take one of them away. Their family will discover their feelings and split them apart. A secret will be revealed that will destroy them.

All of these things put a ticking clock in the corner of the scene, adding pressure to the characters and thus to the reader.

Left to their own devices your characters will continue to dither here and there, never landing on an actual decision or making a decisive move toward the end of the novel. Including the pressure of a ticking clock drives them forward. It adds tension, which builds the conflict and is absolutely necessary to making a riveting book.

Everyone have a very happy holiday! See you in 2016!

James was born and raised in Georgia and grew up drawing and reading a steady helping of Robert E. Howard stories, Golden Age comics, and books he was far too young to be reading. Combined with a very Southern involvement in church and watching horror movies, this became the bedrock of his creativity. He became a tattoo artist, and now writes dark fantasy. He's the author of the Deacon Chalk: Occult Bounty Hunter series, a variety of short stories and novellas set in the same world (and some outside of it), and the editor of the Thunder on the Battlefield anthologies. His newest series (co-written with Debbie Viguie), is Robin Hood: Demon's Bane.

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About Robin Hood: Demon's Bane

Sherwood Forest is a place of magic, and Prince John and his allies are demons bent upon ruling Britain. The solstice draws close, and Prince John and the Sheriff hold Maid Marian, whose blood sacrifice will lock the prince’s hold on the kingdom and the crown. Unless Marian can reach Robin with a magic artifact coveted by the enemy and entrusted to her by the Cardinal, the ritual will occur. 

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Indie Bound

1 comment:

  1. James, Thank you. Just the element I've been missing! Brilliant!