Where oh where are my therapists?

We’re here, we’re here!

How’s everyone in MyBookTherapy land?

We got into a busy crunch and figured y’all could use a break from our relentless blogging. There’s tons of good stuff on the site to review if you’re new to the community!

Well, Susie had a fun weekend in Minneapolis with long time friends, then last night attended the IJM dinner in same city. Her hubby came along for the event and they are spending some quality time together. IJM is International Justice Mission focusing on human rights abuse, specifically human trafficking.

Susie’s latest book, Wiser Than Serpents, deals with this issue. Be sure to add it to your summer reading list.

While we don’t want to write agenda fiction, stories are a great venue for raising social awareness.

She’ll be back home this week only to turn around and run her daughter to camp. The joys of being a mom of four never end!

Check back later for pictures from her weekend and the IJM dinner.

As for me, the second banana around here, and a fine one at that, I’m working on a new book for Thomas Nelson, tentatively titled Dining With Joy.

I spent the weekend relaxing at home, doing various chores, finding myself entangled in yard work with hubby on Monday. Afterwards, I vegged with a Gilmore Girls DVD. First Season. I’d missed most of it in past years, so it was fun to catch up on the beginning of the story. I’m impressed at how well they maintained the story line. I’m not impressed, after watching one show right after another, at how poorly they keep their time lines. Loralie will be at dinner on Friday with Emily and Rory and find out there’s a parent thing at Chilton next Wednesday.

In the next scene, Rory will be with Lane walking down the street in her uniform talking like weeks have passed, or something.

Anyway, small price to pay for great dialog and story line.

I also learned my summer release, “Love Starts With Elle,” earned 4.5 Stars from Romantic Times Book Club, as did Susie’s “Finding Stephanie.” Yay.

But, Elle got an extra boost this time. Top Pick! My first RT Top Pick.

See, I don’t have four kids so I can obsess about the strangest things!

Be sure to check out Christine Lynxwiler’s new release, “Along Came a Cowboy” available now! Chris has a fun, down home breezy writing voice with engaging characters.

And look for Tracey Bateman’s August release, “That’s Not Exactly Amore.” I’ve already read it and loved it. Tracey has a great ability to grasp the female range of emotions and put them on the page.

We’ll be back in force next week, focusing back on writing. But for now, surf the site, or hop over to forums for fellowship.


Tension Toolbox

I meant to post yesterday, Friday, but the day got away from me. Sorry, team.

This is our final post on tension for now. No promises about the future.

What mechanical ways can we show tension in our writing? Word choice. Short sentences. Entering the scene late, exiting early.

Let’s try a scene:

The wind blowing over the prairie was hot and dry as Mikaila urge her horse forward, scraping her fingers through her long blonde hair. Her cornflower blue eyes caught sight of a billowing cloud of dust rising from the horizon line, a mushroom from the earth, she thought.

Wonder who it might be? She let her mind drift toward Cole who waited for her back at the ranch. They’d fought, about nothing. But she speed away on Old Horse before refusing to listening to his apology. Don’t tell her the woman flirting with him on the veranda was just a young foolish girl.

Did he think her a fool? Suddenly, images appeared from the mushroom cloud. From the way they road, the glint of the sun off of their sweat soak skin, Mikaila knew. Indians were riding her way.

Okay, I tried to write a flowery scene, but I’m not too good at flowery. But we see this is a long scene hinting at tension. How can we pump it up?

Here’s a try:

The cabin door slammed as Mikaila stormed out. Cole, the fool.
“Mikaila, don’t be a child. Come back here.” Cole’s foot falls thudded against the dry dirt.
She whirled around. “Me? Child? No, she’s the child, flirting with you shamelessly while your fiance looks on. And you, not doing a thing?”
‘What do you want me to do? I’m being polite. She’s a guest.”
Enough. Mikaila hit the barn, hoping on Old Horse, tuning out Cole’s pleading, and riding into the heat waves.
A mile out, she saw it. A dust cloud along the horizon line, a troop of glistening bare backs ridging toward her.

Above, I tried to enter the scene late (mid fight) and exit early (Indians.)

The reader, in theory, wants to know what’s going on. They’ll keep reading. I used shorter sentences, less personal description. This is not the time to tell the reader hair and eye color.

I added dialog to let us know about the flirty guest and used action tags (Cole’s foot falls thudded against the dry dirt) to give a sense of place as well as moving giving a sense of Cole’s frustration.

I don’t give Mikaila time to wonder, “who is this riding out of the dust cloud.”

For good tension, move the story forward without letting the protagonist ponder too long. Use phrases like “stormed out” or “hit the barn.”

You get the idea, right? Even if you’re writing romance, you need to think about cutting description and adding tension.

Have fun!

Where’s my knife? I want to cut the tension.

Yesterday we talked about the importance of tension in our stories. Here are a couple of definitions:

a balance maintained in an artistic work between opposing forces or elements, or the act or action of stretching or the condition or degree of being stretched to stiffness.

Tension holds the story taunt. It is the element that makes a story compelling. Once we introduce the story question and problem, it is the tension that keep the reader turning pages.

Most of the time, writing books use suspense or thrillers to show wanna be authors how to create tension. I say, “Not fair.” Come on, “Silence of the Lambs,” are you kidding me? Of course there’s tension. But I write romance, or romantic suspense, or women’s fiction.

Think about your own life. What creates tension? You’ve had an argument go unresolved. The bills are due and you have no money. The car won’t start and you’re late for the meeting.

Tension is that element which elongates the story.

In Sophie Kinsella’s Shopaholic books, we feel Rebecca Bloomwood’s struggle because through most of he book, nothing gets resolved, it only gets worse.

For example, her bank manager sends her letters, asking her to come in and talk about her accounts. Becca doesn’t pick up the phone and say, “Oh yes, I’ll be right down, I’m so sorry for all the trouble.”

Noooo, she throws the letters in the trash, along with her Visa bill and Master Card.

The conflict? Becca is bad with money and loves to shop. The tension? She refuses to deal with it.

Tension needs to be layered, too. There’s not just the tension of Becca spending too much money, but there’s tension in her job. She hates her job. Once she comes to this revelation, she doesn’t quit, she just performs her job badly.

There’s tension when she visits her parents, and she’s afraid the neighbors will fix her up with their son. What does she do? Give them financial advice. But it’s bad financial advice.

Look for ways to layer in tension. Don’t answer all the problems. Set up a scenario for later in the story where the tension mounts.

Becca’s bad financial advice to the neighbors causes them to lose everything! When she finds out, she’s horrified.

In Sweet Caroline, there’s always tension between Caroline and her brother Henry. They are cordial, but snippy to each other. I use this later to cast doubt on Henry’s faithfulness to his wife. Hmm…

Knowing your story really well helps keep the tension line taunt. As soon as you start writing happy, sunshine, all-is-right-with-the world scenes, it’s time to back up and rethink.

At a Donald Maass workshop I attended, he took a comedy scene from Rene Gutteridge’s Work In Progress and… added tension. A disgruntled airplane passenger became more disgruntled.

Don’t be nice to your characters, save it for the end. Layer in the tension in all your scenes and subplots.

In Love Starts With Elle, there’s constant tension between Elle and her baby sister, Julianne. Why? Jules has a secret. When we discover the secret, the tension escalates. One easy way I pulled this off was because I knew Julianne’s story before I began.

As you read and watch movies this next week, look for that tension. How do you feel when it’s not in the story? How do you feel when it’s done right?

The Tension Was So Thick, I Could Puff It Away

Ever read a book where the tension just did not deliver? Conflict was set up, devastation delivered then all resolved on the next page, or worse, the next paragraph?

Yeah, me too.

Tension is that part of the story telling that keeps the reader on edge. Conflict ebbs and flows, devastation is resolved, or handled, perhaps escalated, but tension is the one element we must maintain.

In our physical world, we use tension to keep a cable or rope taunt. No trapeze artist wants to walk on a lose high wire, right? It’s the tauntness of our stories that hold it together.

But most of us don’t like tension. We don’t want to walk into a room and get the cold shoulder or get ignored. The stiff remarks between family members at Thanksgiving dinner makes our stomachs knot.

But fiction thrives on tension. We must have it.

How do we decide tension? First, as you begin a scene, think of how you can move your protagonist farther away from his or her goal. What can go wrong?

Now, hold on. Don’t have something go wrong for the sake of going wrong. Chick lit offended here with the pratfall, the office gossip that revealed the protagonist’s secrets, or the spilling of coffee or fowl language. That’s not tension. That’s just “stuff happens.”

Tension is the underlying tauntness that holds the conflict and the devastation together, driving the protagonist away from the story question or overall goal is what you want.

If I want to drive up I-95 to the mall, what are possible obstacles? Traffic jam. A wreck. My car breaks down. A road detour taking me way out of my way.

Now what kind of tension does it create? Road rage? Snippy conversation with my husband when he calls. Speeding, thus a speeding ticket. Well, you get the picture.

Tension is created four ways: Dialog, Description, Action and Tone.

Let’s set up a scenario: Two newlyweds are working out the mechanics of their marriage. After a few days of spats, she wants to create a homey atmosphere for her husband. She took off work early to grocery shop. She bought candles. She cleaned house.

He comes home and… Scene.

The key in the door told Susie her man was home. Surprised at her fluttering heart, she pressed her hand to her chest as she listened for his, “Hey, babe, I’m home.”

Instead, sharp footsteps echoed down the hall, against the hardwood. His keys clanked against the desk.

“Hey, Andrew, I’m in the kitchen.”

“Be out in a minute.”

Susie heard the click of his old lamp, the creek of his college chair, and angled around to see a lone cone of pale light slicing the darkness. “Andrew?”

“I said in a minute.”

End Scene

Okay, I just threw that together to give you an idea of tension. Susie is excited for Andrew to be home, but apparently he’s had a bad day. We feel and hear the tension on the scene with the clipped dialog, the footfalls on the floor, a lone light in the darkness.

I have a feeling Susie isn’t getting her romantic dinner.

In Sweet Caroline, my heroine’s story question is “what do I do with this money pit Cafe?” She stuck with it until probate ends, and in the mean time she’s dealing with money and structural problems.

Not long after she takes over command, Caroline learns the former owner booked a 90th birthday party for a family matriarch. Everyone is coming. Caroline rises to the occasion only to have the Cafe itself betray her.

On the day of the party, the electricity fails. Bad wiring. This creates all kinds of tension keeping with the over all goal and story point. It created tension within Caroline, with her employees, with her customer.

In the end, she finds a solution to satisfy all, but don’t worry, the next bit of Cafe tension is around the corner… bad plumbing!

You must have several layers of tension going on, too. I had tension with the Cafe, with Caroline’s family, with herself, with her love interests. And, a time or to, the town.

Layer in the tension. Your readers will love you for it.

So, let’s recap. Tension is the tauntness that keeps your readers turning the page. If you have a relaxed, happy moment, devastation ladened with tension should be on it’s way.

Tension is communicated through the dialog, the character’s action, the setting description and the tone of the writing.

See you over on Voices!