Hey everyone. Today I’m pleased to welcome to Magical Words a guest star and good friend of mine, Rachel Aaron. I had a clever little introduction planned for her, but then she sent me her post and I discovered she took care of introducing herself. (Very efficient, that Rachel) So without further ado, I’ll turn this post over to her.
My friend John Hartness once said that the three act structure can be summed up like this: You put your characters into a tree, you light the tree on fire, you get them out of the tree. A good explanation, but novels are more complicated than that. There are variations of how much the tree is burning at any one time. This variance is vitally important, but to show you what I mean, I’ll need to employ a visual aid.
This is the action graph for the plot of a little movie called Star Wars, maybe you’ve heard of it?
(Image found ages ago, credit sadly unknown. If this is yours, please let me know and I’ll get your name on it. Also, this graph is amazing! You rock!)
Think of a book as a roller coaster. Ideally, you want your readers to spend just the right amount of time on each part. You want the heart pounding climb with the click click click of the chain as they’re pulled up, the breathless moment before they go over, the rush of the ride down, and the brief relief of reaching the bottom before it starts all over again. Overstaying any one of these spots can ruin a book’s pacing, but the worst by far is lingering at the bottom of the dip.
And that brings us back to my persistent novel problem. Every time I would hit this scene I didn’t want to write, it was invariably because the tension was slacking. My roller coaster was idling at the bottom of the dip, so to speak. It was always for a very good reason, of course. My plot needed that talking scene where important things were explained! But one of the things I’m slowly learning is that tension, not plot, runs my novels, and when the two collide, tension always wins. My job as author, then, is to match my plot to my tension and make sure that not only do the events happen in a logical order for the story to progress, they act in an exciting order to keep the tension high.
So how did I solve my tension problem? Well, more often than not, I lit more of the tree on fire. If I have a dull scene that’s idling at the bottom of a dip, the first thing I try to do is cut it and move whatever is revealed/said/etc. to other, less bothersome scenes. If I can’t do that, then I have to make the scene more tense and exciting. The easiest way to do this is to make things worse for your characters. Kalayna Price’s Alex Craft books are a good example. Poor Alex barely has time to breathe with all the shit that’s flying at her, certainly never a dull moment.
Another way to add tension to a lacking scene is to add foreshadowing. Everyone loves a mystery, and if you have a love story in there, romantic tension is also a great way to ratchet up the excitement. A heavy dash of unresolved sexual tension can make even the most talking heads-y scenes nail biting. However you decide to solve the problem, though, the biggest step is always figuring out what’s wrong in the first place. I still have tension problems in every book, but now that I’ve figured out what they are, I can usually solve them with minimal hair ripping. I hope this post helps save your hair too.
Thank you so much to Kalayna and everyone else at Magical Words for letting me come in and slap down a wall-o-text, and I hope you’ll go check out the Eli Omnibus. Thank you for reading, and good writing!