Thursday, July 1, 2010

Thynopthith Thursday: All About Tension and Plot

(Photo courtesy

Okay, so I'm stretching the days-of-the-week alliteration. :-)

But I was up late last night formulating the SYNOPSIS for my favorite (right this minute) WIP, and I just had to blog about it today. As @KayCassidy taught me (get THE CINDERELLA SOCIETY here), I'm using Michael Hauge's six-point plot structure on all my story ideas.

And it's making all the difference in the world!

I can't stop myself writing the first few pages of a burning new idea, but after that, I do start to wander unless I have a very clear idea where I want the story to go. Therefore, I've become a plotter/pantser combination, which I think most of us probably are. Currently, I lean toward plotter.

My goal with this YA Paranormal Romance is to keep tension throughout. I watched TWELVE ANGRY MEN for the first time a few nights ago and was blown away by the genius of it--so much tension and conflict/high stakes, all shot in that one little room. Masterful! I decided I needed to at least try to infuse my stories with that type of tension.

There are plenty of ideas about how a story should begin. Lots and lots of experts say to start with loads of action. 

Reginald froze. The icy ring of the gun barrel chilled his neck, sending waves of panic through his nervous system. But there was a sense of familiar inevitability in the weapon's cold pressure. Nobody can run forever.

I think this can be a useful way to start a story, as long as you don't find yourself adding in tons of flashback exposition. There's nothing more distracting to me as a reader than when I'm reading an action scene, and the character stops to think about how he got there. Yeah right, I'm thinking. Like anybody thinks this eloquently when there's a gun to his throat. 

Not that there's anything wrong with flashback (especially if you're writing an experimental backwards plot novel), but it kind of defeats the purpose of starting with action, which is to keep a high level of tension throughout.

So what I prefer to begin with is internal conflict. Publishing pros are always talking about how important it is for them to love the voice and the main character, and it needs to happen right away--a sort of literary love at first sight. I believe that revealing the hero's inner struggle from page 1 solves both problems: 1) create tension and 2) establish an emotional connection to the reader.

A smudge of gooey ink from the hotel pen marred the page as Reginald's fingers trembled. It was done. His wife was certain to find the five pages in her mailbox at the conclusion of her writers conference. He half-hoped she wouldn't go home at all. She could do him the courtesy of leaving, at least. In any case, she wouldn't find him in their little tudor house. 

It was time for him to check out. His only regret was leaving the dog behind. 

Okay, not the best writing, but you get where I'm going. Nobody is in fatal peril. Still, plenty of conflict and tension. And since I've started with his internal conflict, I can move on to the external conflict without it seeming forced. The character is established as a nervous man whose wife doesn't love him and he knows it. We know he regrets having to leave everything that's familiar to him, but that he's willing to do it. Now I can have a desperate addict walk into his cheap hotel room and put a gun to his throat. OR I can send him to Tennessee where he'll meet a saucy waitress who brings out his inner rogue. His flirtations thereafter incur the wrath of her wannabe gangster boyfriend who puts a gun to Reginald's throat, and we come full circle.

The goal is a steady supply of tension.

Don't forget the comic relief, though. Personally, I can't read or watch something that has no break in the tension. 

*The story samples above are completely made up on the spur of the moment, having nothing whatsoever to do with my WIP, but I'm not ready to share my premise with the world yet. You know when you have the perfect baby name for your future tikes and you just know that if you say it out loud, it will become the most popular baby name of 2010? That's how I feel about my premise. And I'm really not paranoid because it's happened the last two times I started writing something fun, first with mermaids and then with super villains, so forgive my superstition.

Also, a plug for using the six-point plotting technique for your synopsis:

This is the second project for which I've started plotting only to discover that my villain didn't have a believable motive, or didn't have the chops to be that bad. In both cases, a secondary character stepped forward as the true villain. I love it when this happens, and it probably would have taken many rewrites to figure this out had I not done the difficult thinking beforehand. I'm now very excited to get going on this story, which already has twenty-eight pages.


  1. How fun, Katrina! So glad it worked for you. :-)

  2. Thanks again for tweeting about it so long ago! ;-) If I ever get published, you will be on the acknowledgements page for sure!


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