Snap Crackle Pop: How to Jack up the Tension in Your Stories

A presentation by

Larry Brooks

Tension, like characterization, is as much art as it is craft.

–         there is no “how to” model

–         it’s like singing voice, athleticism

  • it can be improved, practiced and taught
  • but mostly, it is evolved by the performer through the application of principles

–         we will look at some of the principles today

–         tension technique – being aware of what balls you are throwing up into the air within a scene… and manipulating them properly

Goal of this workshop:

–         to deliver… a toolchest… awareness.. perspective… skill-building… examples.

–         interactivity encouraged

What is tension?

–         emotional involvement of the reader

–         connection to the bigger picture of the story

–         thrusts the reader forward into the story

Mission-driven writing.

–         one of the most powerful principles of storytelling

–         there can be multiple missions within a scene, by only ONE exposition goal

  • other missions include characterization, setting, and…
  • … tension.

Tension-driven scenes vs. Exposition-driven scenes:

–         why you need to understand the difference

–         what else is there: “set-up” scenes and transitional scenes

–         being proactive about the design and sequence of these flavors

Tension is genre-dependent.

–         thriller vs. mystery

–         romance vs. erotica (is there tension in erotica?)

–         historical vs. family drama/contemporary

–         science fiction vs. anything

Macro-tension vs. Micro (scene-specific) tension.

Tension is concept dependent.

Tension is context and structure dependent.

–         the four parts of a story… mission/context-driven

–         trumped, though, by the goal of the scene (aka, first scene in Inglorious Basterds)

Tension is conflict-dependent.

Tension is character-dependent (inner landscape).

Tension is hero’s goal-dependent.

Tension is pace dependent.

Tension is sub-text-dependent.

–         Shutter Island scene with George Noyce

–         Deer Hunter Russian roulette scene

–         First scene of Inglorious Basterds

Exterior vs. interior tension.

–         character-driven

–         tension can be derived from either, or both, within a single scene

Tension is heightened by entering scenes efficiently, and at the last possible moment.

Sequence-dependent tension (vs. scene-dependent)

How do you “pay off” the tension within a scene?

–         micro/scene tension dynamics require a payoff (ending)

  • this teaches the reader what to expect
  • okay to escalate/thrust… but the sequence must pay off
  • no dangling scene/sequence dramas

The “cut and thrust” technique for scene transition.

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