Friday, January 8, 2010

Adding Maass' microtension to PFC

The second semester of my Popular Fiction Class with Pam Binder started up this week, and I found it pretty cool that she was using a Maass' technique from The Fire in Fiction workshop for one of our exercises.

The discussion was an overview about the middle of the novel, and how even when nothing exciting is happening in terms of action, you still need to have tension on the page. Pam had use pull out a page from out novel and try adding tension to every line.

So you tell me. Did I add tension?

Kelder has been sent to kill her sister, Telleo. Grist is her former mentor, and has offered to kill Telleo for Kelder.

Orignal:

“I think I understand.”

Kelder shook her head. “Do you? What pain did you have in your Sun life? You speak only of love lost and your happy family. At least when you left them behind you knew they would be safe.”

Grist shifted behind her, his hand stilling on the top of her head. “My pain was leaving them behind. A Sun life is not an easy one, you know this. Without me, their provider, my family may have starved and died. I left my wife alone, with a newborn child. And I’ll never know.”

“Better the unknown, than sent to kill them,” Kelder muttered into the furs. “Sand be praised.”

“Yes.” Grist paused. “But you think killing Telleo is protecting her?”

“And letting someone else kill her isn’t?” Kelder sat up, shrugging him away. She turned to give him a hard stare, too tired to hide the pain and tears in her eyes. “If I…if I can just…”

Grist sighed. “The canary wouldn’t have called all this if your sister isn’t truly a soul looker. She is beyond your help.”

“I know that. At least I can see that her death is merciful.”

Grist’s brow creased. “Is your opinion so low of me? You think I would torture your sister if I took your task? That I do this for some pleasure?”

Many Ala’der took great pleasure in maiming and giving soul lookers slow and agonizing deaths for their defilement of the Sand. But not Grist, she did know that. “I didn’t mean--”

Revision with more tension:

“I think I understand.”

Kelder shook her head and sneered. “Do you? What pain did you have in your Sun life? All you talk about was your happy family. At least you know they are safe.”


Grist shifted behind her, his hand stilling on the top of her head, though his fist clenched slightly, his nails tugging at her hair. “My pain was leaving them behind. A Sun life is not an easy one, you know this. I was their provider. For all I know, my family starved and died without me. I left my wife alone with our newborn child. I’ll never know the truth.”

“Better the unknown, than sent to kill them,” Kelder muttered into the furs. “Sand be praised.”

“Yes.” Grist paused, his hand relaxing. “But do you really think killing Telleo yourself is protecting her?”

“And letting someone else kill her isn’t?” Kelder crawled to her feet. Grist tried to stop her, but she shrugged him away. She turned and gave him a hard stare, too tired to hide the pain and tears in her eyes. “If I…if I can just…”

Grist sighed, holding a hand out to her. “The canary wouldn’t have called all this if your sister isn’t truly a soul looker. She is beyond your help.”

“I know.” Kelder swallowed, staring at his extended hand, scarred and calloused from years spent killing. “At least I can see that her death is merciful.”

Grist’s brow creased, his fingers falling out of reach. “You think I would torture your sister if I took your task? That I offer this for some perverse pleasure?”

Many Ala’der took great glee in maiming soul lookers and delivering slow and agonizing deaths in return for their defilement of the Sand. But not Grist, she did know that. She’d seen him kill, many times. It was always swift and mechanical – a necessary evil to him, not a game. “I didn’t mean--”

Do you think the second scene has more tension than the first?

6 comments:

ElanaJ said...

I do. The tension in his hands was a very nice addition. :)

Eric said...

I don't know if what is added is more tension as much as just more vision. I do agree that the clenching of his hand, her sneers, etc, do create a bit of tension. But on the whole, I think what you've done here makes it easier to "see" what is going on. It's not as simple as saying there is more description, but I don't know if it's exactly tension either. No matter how you define it though, what is added improves the writing significantly. Nice job.

scott g.f.bailey said...

1. Yes, the second version has more tension than the first.

2. Is this the best way to do this, though? Maybe in general, the microtension as you've done here is a good way to keep the reader interest going, but I think a lot of that can be done just with structure. For example, there's a lot of exposition in this scene. Instead of the whole "Many Ala’der took great glee in maiming soul lookers and delivering slow and agonizing deaths in return for their defilement of the Sand. But not Grist, she did know that. She’d seen him kill, many times. It was always swift and mechanical – a necessary evil to him, not a game." passage, why not actually have a dramatized scene where Grist kills a soul looker and Kelder sees how he rolls? And in the scene you're working on, isn't the main conflict that Kelder is to kill her own sister? Wouldn't it be more effective, maybe, if she and Grist talked at cross-purposes, him listing the advantages of his doing the work and Kelder shaking her head and repeating "she's my sister" and getting increasingly annoyed without directly responding to Grist? Anyway, my two cents. Tell me to shut up if you like.

The Screaming Guppy said...

Thanks for the insight guys.

The goal I guess was to show tension through his hands - seemed like a good way to add it in.

@Scott

You made a great point, and something to certainly consider. The only problem with the idea is I was trying to avoid staying Kelder's childhood years for too long. Right now, the opening two chapters are Kelder at nine years old, and chapter 3 comes in fourteen years later (skipping the timeframe when Kelder would have witnessed Grist killing).

I've actually been wondering if I should spend more time in the younger years instead of just jumping forward to the big "hook" - which is that Kelder has to kill her sister. But, I worry that if I don't get to the hook within the first three chapter "golden" rule, I have another issue. This scene is around chapter five.

Also, not a bad idea to have him argue the advantages of him killing her...I think I might have that earlier in the novel...but maybe it belongs here.

Thanks again for the brain food!

scott g.f.bailey said...

Brain food? That's for when you work on HOUND, isn't it?

Sandra said...

I think what you've done with the added beats is added more conflict. I think of tension as an unanswered story question, such as "Who will kill the sister?" Hope this helps.