Sunday, June 10, 2007

Don't get a massage; be tense!

I have been working, really, on Masks. I'm coming up on a big scene, and I'm a little nervous about it so I'm trying to be careful. Not careful careful, where I'm trying to control everything. Ew, that's no fun, not for the writer, or the reader. Just trying not to rush. Trying to let this scene unfold without rushing into things.

It's got me thinking about tension again. Tension can come from all kinds of sources. The ticking clock is one. Time's running out! Don't dilly dally, because here it comes! Then there's the 'the other group is in trouble while you guys are farting around here' method. About the time when this group hits an oh no moment, the author goes back to the first group. You want to know what's happening with both groups simultaneously and you're biting your nails, but you only can know about one at a time, and that tension can effectively carry you through what would otherwise be somewhat mundane set ups for various scenes. Yet another form of tension comes from exploring the unknown. Another is setting up a dire consequence--the last person to attempt this died horribly--and putting the character through the anticipation of awfulness about to happen. The list of how to develop tension is really long. Despite the almost infinite opportunities to create tension, though, it's easy to lose. Why?

My theory is that, at least in my case, the tension is counteracted by the various characters constantly trying to relieve their own stress. They want to take time for tea. They want to sleep dreamlessly. They want to escape, even for a moment, their circumstances. Well, too bad. If they want it, it'll have to happen off screen, or briefly and in a way that leads them to even more badness.

Tension aids in movement. If everyone, or even just most of the people in a scene are totally comfortable, there will be little or no tension and the scene won't move. It'll just sit there, sit there and smoke and drink beer and watch the game with maybe an occasionally leap off the stinky couch to toss potato chips in the air and curse at a referee that can't hear it. It'll be a lazy scene without tension.

So why not rush to get to the 'good part'? Glad you asked. Because it's all the good part. If I rush through now, I'll miss an opportunity to create more tension. By not rushing, by giving this scene the attention it deserves, I've stressed the dynamic between two of the characters in numerous and hopefully entertaining ways. This should pay off big time later. And, I'll get to have another cliffhanger chapter ending if I time this right, just as the scene I am definitely not going to rush toward hops out of the closet dressed in lace panties and a clown hat.

It may be that all this attention to detail may not pay off, and I'll end up cutting the scene anyway. But I think it's okay. I think I'll let it live, for now. And while it's alive, it's going to be tense, tense as a adolescent boy asking a girl out for his very first date. How will she answer? We'll find out later, in chapter X.

No comments: