Every story has to have tension, emotion and a character which the audience can willingly get behind. These elements, for the most part, must be in the story for readers to feel connected. We thrive on conflict, whether it is physical or emotional. We want to see characters who struggle as we do in our daily lives. It’s cathartic. Between the key elements of drama and the elements of entertainment which categorize writing, it’s easy to understand what goes into a story to make it successful. But I felt like my novel, The Mess We’re In, wasn’t successful. Then it hit me: where is my tension at? I started thinking about my novel and really considering if the tension was present. In fact, I sat down and listed out the key moments of what I thought were tension, in order to see if they were present if there were any present at all. I knew before I published my novel there were issues, but just didn’t understand what. Nothing better than listing things to help you see what is wrong.
So where was the tension? What was wrong with my novel?
First, it’s written in first person, so the point of view needed to be strong. Problem was, Lily wasn’t a strong character. Not at first. In fact, she was the weakest of them all. So I spent time really thinking about her wants and motivations, so I had a better understanding of her, rather than her being relegated to the narrator. The point of view must be strong so that the story has a great voice. I had to discover her persona, which I hadn’t really had a handle on up to this point. What came out was a woman who abided by her Southern upbringing of putting family first, even if it meant sacrificing dreams, but she was also someone was willing to fight for others, but not for herself. Her concern for others nature always won out. Once I recognized what she had lost and gave up for other family members, I understood her motivation better. I knew her better.
This brings me to tension. Conflict and tension was not a problem in this story. There was plenty of it. With emotional, physical and sexual tension, these characters were having a tough time of it, but what hurt the tension was the lack of action I had built into the first few chapters. Nothing happened, so I realized that if nothing happens, why do we care? The tension has to be there in the front to really help establish the flow and connection. Basically, put them through hell and bring them back, but do so at a steady pace. Of course, in clearing out this slower paced material, it meant I would sacrifice a bit on backstory and setting. Some setting and backstory can be saved, but most of it has to go because it slows down the overall pace of the story. And again, no action means no caring. Lily had to show her tension early on, or it just wasn’t going to work. So she did so through sacrificing for her nephew and taking on the actor Dutch Sturgess, who she really wasn’t certain about. But by allowing him to move on her property during the duration of the tv series production, she sacrificed once again for someone else, but not herself. Yet, as fate would have it, the sacrifice for her nephew would lead to the best tension of all: a new romance.
And there’s the tension.
Until next time…
Like my blog? Why not try my novel? Big city actor falls for small-town historian, reigniting a moonshining feud. Things are about to get real messy, but can their love survive?