Time, Time, Time
Time is what turns kittens into cats.
It’s also something that tends to run out on you and leave you naked and wondering why you ended up in the grocery store with no clothes on. It’s because you didn’t have time to get dressed, silly.
The problem with my work schedule is that my day goes something like this:
10 AM or 5 PM: Start work. If I’m a double, I start at 10. Otherwise I usually work at 5.
12 AM-2:30 AM: Off work. Happy dance!!!! Now what?
3:00 AM: I’m hungry. Dinna time!
3:30 AM: Hang time with spouse.
4:30 AM- 5:30 AM: Bed.
This means I wake up no earlier than noon most days. Today that was 1. Which means on a day when I have to be at work at 4 instead of 5, I have an hour less of that time stuff to: write 2,000 words, eat, shower, PUT ON CLOTHES!, talk to the husband, and get ready to go. That’s not much time stuff.
So here is my two hour sprint of writing/food/clothes. Day 2, I’ma kick yo butt.
Tension results from two factors: resistance and ambiguity. In nearly every piece of narrative writing, fiction or otherwise, someone is trying to achieve something. Tension results from external or internal opposition to achievement of the goal (resistance), or uncertainty as to the narrator or character’s understanding of the situation in which she finds herself (ambiguity), specifically its perils (psychological, emotional, physical).
Tension is essential because it keeps readers reading. Thus, in every scene you write, strive to heighten tension by doing one of two things: Enhancing the forces impeding achievement of the goal, or confusing/complicating the narrator or character’s understanding of the situation.
At the end of every writing session, take time to find and stress those elements within the narrative that serve these purposes. Trim away elements that do not, unless they add necessary color.
This is excellent advice. My biggest problem when I was completing the second draft of book one was that it a: was far too scattered and b: lacked the necessary tension to propel it to the conclusion. I remedied a lot of that with the second draft, but when I pull it out again December 1, that’s what I will be looking for as I read.
I think Corbett says it best when he says that tension is what keeps readers turning pages. You can also describe it as conflict, whether internal or external. I like to think of it as a rope. When a reader picks up your book, your first chapter should hook her (if it doesn’t, you’ve got a whole other problem). When that happens, you tie a rope around your reader’s waist. Now, it’s a long-ass rope. Think hundreds of feet. Your job the second that knot gets tied around your new pet reader is to pull him where you want him to end up (this reader’s gender is ambiguous). You can’t pull your reader anywhere if your rope is slack. And you have a LOT of rope to mess with.
As soon as you get the rope around your reader, your job is to pull it tight. To create tension early so that reader doesn’t wander off to look at that cactus over there or fall in a river. You could strain and reel your reader in over those hundreds of feet of rope, or you could simply start running in the direction you want the reader to go. Take off. Make that rope pull tight before the reader knows she has any slack to wander off. Create tension so your reader can’t help but follow where you lead. Once the tension’s there, you don’t have to pull him at a sprint for four hundred pages, but you want enough tension there at all times to guide him as you lead. Enough that you don’t stop to tie your shoe and she goes off chasing mongooses under a bush. (This reader is very easily distracted; readers often are.) If you do let up the tension for a moment, it should be because you want to stop long enough for your reader to look around and see where you are now before plunging forward.
Your words are your rope. It should be a good, strong rope. You don’t want it frayed or rotten in bits so it breaks when the tension gets applied. It’s a tricky thing to pull a reader through a story; make sure you have the best rope possible.
Here we are for Day 2: Time for me to get back to the drawing board.