Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Tension Mystery Drama

To me, developing scenarios and moving them forward, backward, or sideways is more fun than watching monkeys swing upside down in a tree.

The second novel of my Pepper Bibeau mystery series is well underway with all the plot lines established. Now that I understand each of the characters’ roles, and how they've decided to act, I am ready to add the full weight of their reactions. That's the fun part.

After reading and rereading Donald Maass’ The Fire In Fiction, I know the most important task of writing is to create conflict for or within my characters. Conflict creates tension, mystery, and drama. It carries the threat of failure, something to which I can relate. Most people can.

Why does the threat of failure create such stress?
1. The father of seven doesn’t get the promotion that would include a much needed raise - will the family have enough to eat?
2. A young girl who doesn’t know how to swim falls into the deep end of the community pool - will she make it to the pool’s edge?
3. A strong wind causes a harsh drop in temperature - will the hikers survive?
Anyone can easily bring a scenario to its logical conclusion, but a good writer will continue to raise the stakes and tension, until that conclusion is reached.

A missed promotion or lost raise means less money for food. Unhealthy meals may lead to weakened brain power causing:
... lower grade scores for the child struggling to concentrate;
... slower reaction time in the mother cooking at a hot stove or carrying a squirming baby;
... reduced quality of critical-thinking for the father in his job as a stock broker or vehicle assembly lineman or construction crane operator.
Knowing that the result of one or more of these consequences can be deadly creates tension.

***If the young girl who falls into the pool can’t swim, and the gathering of people is loud, her distress might go unnoticed until it is too late.
***Or when her friend jumps in to save her, the girl panics and they both drown.
***Another possibility is that someone knows the girl can't swim and pushes her in, then covers her shouts for help by turning up a boom box to top volume, which leads to a CSI-type mystery.

A group of people climbing one of Alaska’s snow-covered mountains is unprepared for the drastic drop in temperature.
### Unable to reach shelter, and without proper clothing, two members curl up in the snow and freeze to death.
### Maybe the group brought tents, but one person wanders away from camp in a disoriented state and dies of exposure.
### Or worse, there isn’t enough room in the sheltered area, and the person who draws the short straw is exposed to a subzero wind chill factor. Drama ensues.

Whatever your choice of genre, what intrigues you most about a novel and keeps you reading: tension, mystery, or drama?

You can find The Fire In Fiction on Kindle:
The Fire In Fiction by Donald Maass


  1. Okay, I admit it. I love romantic tension between a hero and heroine. That will definitely keep me reading!

  2. Great post. I've heard in writing conferences about how important it is to establish that your characters want something (or want to keep someone else from getting something). The stronger you make that desire the more conflict--and then throw roadblocks in achieving it--the more the tension that will keep the reader reading.

  3. Talli, I've been watching early seasons of "Bones" on DVD. Talk about romantic tension!

    Donna, I agree the stronger the desire, the more conflict. There is always a fine line in creating a certain amount of roadblocks so the reader doesn't just get frustrated or bored before a resolution is reached.

    Of course, going back to "Bones", the series is over when Bones and Booth kiss, forcing the writers to up the tension a bit more each show. The question is, how long can they continue to hold the audience's attention ... w/tension?

  4. It's necessary to get your characters into trouble to keep that tension building, but it can be a little scary as a writer because you know that once you've taken them in that direction, there is no turning back. Essentially, the conflicts that you create for your characters are also conflicts that you create for yourself. Great post!


Aloha and thank you for visiting today! All comments are welcome.
For those who prefer to comment via email: