Too Much Tension?

Is there such a thing? Can a story have too much tension?

One way to check is to read a story or see a movie that is a thriller. Try to choose something where the action starts at the beginning and never lets up. A good example is the movie Ben is Back starring Julia Roberts.  The tension runs from beginning to end, with no let up. There is no scene in which the characters are not frightened or concerned or worried or frantic.

As a viewer, I was in overload after twenty minutes. I wanted some sort of release. There is one scene in which it was possible to have that release, but the camera focused on Ben and what he was feeling.

Your task is to write a scene in which tension is constant. Choose a setting that is appropriate for that level of tension. It could be a bank robbery, a kidnapping, an attempt at escape, running from evil (or from the law). Keep the focus on the emotions of your main characters.

When you are finished, reread or ask someone else to read. How do you feel as you read? Is there too much tension or the right amount considering the setting?

Next rewrite the scene with moments in which there are lighter actions. Then reread.

Which version works best?

Have fun with this one.

An Interesting Main Character

Let’s face it, your readers have to care about the main character. They don’t necessarily have to like the character, but they have to be interested in what he does, thinks, says.

If you expect the readers to spend time with your writing, then you must give them a reason to read. A boring protagonist, someone who has no opinions, faces no challenges, is never confrontational and lives only to please others will not inspire readers to make it to the end.

Main characters are usually imperfect. They have flaws which give them compelling personalities. Those flaws create challenges that the characters must surmount in order to succeed.

Your task is two-fold. First write a brief story about a practically perfect character. Put them in a scene that poses no challenges, no obstacles to overcome. People the story with likable friends, bosses, partners.

When you finish, analyze the piece. If you were a reader, how would you react?

Your next step is to rewrite the story with a flawed character whose life has pitfalls and confrontation. The character struggles to succeed. At the end something changes about the character. Either she overcomes and experiences a cathartic change, or she is deeper into her problems.

This time when you reread, do you sense a difference in your interest level?

Have fun with this one.

The Effects of Isolation

People, are by nature, social beings. We love spending time with those we care about. Even when forced to interact with casual acquaintances or workmates, we can find someone that has something in common with us and enjoy each other’s company.

What happens when we are isolated for some reason? Sickness forces us to confine ourselves to home. Even if we live with family, we will shut ourselves up on a bedroom, limiting contact and hopefully exposure. For how long can we tolerate isolation before it impacts us negatively?

Picture a person with poor social skills who lacks friends. What does he do? How does he spend time? What goes through his mind?

What about victims of crime who are locked into cells? Prisoners held in isolation from the rest of the population?

Think of the stories you can tell.

Your task is to create an individual who is apart from society. You might want to do some research into the psychological effects of isolation. Read a few case studies. Then make a bullet-point list of a reason that your character is isolated and how she reacts.

Write the story. Make sure there is conflict and tension. Perhaps your character is teased or tortured in some way. Maybe she is ignored or ridiculed.

When you are finished, reread and rewrite, adding in sufficient details to increase tension.

Have fun with this one.

 

Opening Doors

Think of all the times that doors have opened in your favor. I’m not just referring to physical doors, but the literal ones as well. For women it was breaking through the glass ceiling and being hired to do a job traditionally seen as a man’s. A good example is our Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She was admitted to a law school that had never before had a female student. Imagine how hard she fought to get there and to remain there.

Our characters also pass through many doors in their lives. It could be making it through the first job interview to get hired at a fast food joint. Or maybe it was when they were chosen as a soloist in the church choir.

Your task is to think of several doors that opened in one of your character’s lives. Begin by making a short list of at least five things. Next to each record why that door was important and also how it changed that person’s life.

Choose the one that you feel most comfortable writing about. Tell the story, remembering to include sensory details. We want to feel the anxiety before, during and after waiting for the door to open. We need to walk in her shoes as she goes through the process.

In order to make it more interesting, put obstacles in the way. Perhaps the door is far from home or the door opens at an inconvenient time. Maybe there is rejection at first, followed by disappointment, which then turns to joy.

Have fun with this one.

Free Time

Some listen to music while others hike up steep hills. Some garden while others paint. Some write letters. Take long walks with friends. Read a book. Design cards. Eat out. Go to movies or the theater.

No matter how obnoxious the character, at some point he relaxes with a preferred activity, so give him one. It would be more startling if the activity is in direct conflict with the character’s viciousness. For example, a serial killer cuddling up with a tiny kitten. Or a bank robber playing Mozart on a grand piano.

All of your characters need to have at least one preferred leisure activity. We need to see them not just at work, but doing something that allows them to break free of the hassle of their work lives.

Your task is to select a character that you know and love. Make a list of at least five different activities that she would enjoy. Choose some that require physical activity, some that require some degree of skill or talent, and some that almost anyone can do.

Choose one of them to incorporate in a scene.  When you write, allow us to see your character relaxed, enjoying the activity. Allow us to feel what she feels, see what she sees, hear what she hears.

Somewhere during the activity, let there be an interruption. Have her react appropriately. Is she annoyed? Angry? Or does she welcome the distraction?

When you are finished, reread looking for the emotional reactions.

Have fun with this one.

Self-Compassion

The way you think about yourself influences the decisions you make and the things you do. It affects confidence levels which can either reduce or increase the likelihood of you trying new experiences.

Often our self-compassion comes to us as a voice in our head. What does yours tell you? What does it sound like? Is it male or female? Is it encouraging or discouraging? Does it inspire you or tear you down?

If you think of yourself in a kindly manner, you treat yourself with respect, kindness, compassion and with acceptance, even though you might not be as perfect as you would like to be someday.

Your task is to write about yourself. Imagine that you are with a good friend and you are feeling a little down. What would you like that friend to say or do? What is the likelihood that the friend will say anything? What is in that friend’s personality that controls how they will react to you?

Your scene is most likely imaginary, but it doesn’t have to be. You can write about something that happened as a nonfiction story or you can add fictional elements that switch the story to one that you wish had happened.

As you write, ask you friend to treat you with kindness, compassion and caring.

When you are finished, ask yourself if you could treat yourself this way. If not, why?

Have fun with this one.

Sing Your Praises

We are amazing people. We do fabulous things. We create, cook, design. We play sports. We exercise. Socialize. Relax.

We are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles. We are good friends. We are loyal to a fault. We take care of others. We offer emotional and financial support.

However, no matter how wonderful we are, we don’t sing our own praises. We sit back and wait for others to compliment us. Sometimes this happens as part of a conversation in which a few kind words are dribbled out. Sometimes it never happens.

Your task is to write a missive to yourself that compliments you in all ways possible. Be generous and kind. Leave nothing out, no matter how trivial.

One way to do this is in list format. Close your eyes and picture yourself on a typical day. Write down at least one thing that you do that could be considered praiseworthy. Write it down. Then think of one more. And another and another.

Work on this list for several days. Don’t worry about connectedness between items.  Don’t worry about organizing them in any way, Just write.

When you think you have a complete list, then organize items in some type of logical way.

Write.

When you are finished, reread. Add more items. Delete others. Expand some.

Have fun with this one.