Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Self-Editing Checklist: Conflict and Tension
Errr, back it up a minute. What's wrong with this picture? Maybe a lack of conflict?
Can you imagine what the story of Cinderella would be without a wicked stepmother who makes Cinderella scrub and clean until her knees are bare? And who can forget about the evil stepsisters who taunt her whenever they can? Oh, and let's not forget about the lost shoe. I mean, what girl wouldn't be traumatized after that whole ordeal?
Without conflict and tension in our stories, there's no reason to come alongside the characters, to cheer them on to victory, to laugh and cry when they finally fall in love and live happily ever after.
Simply put, without conflict and tension, there is no story.
So now that we've analyzed our scenes until our eyes are blurred (If you're not seeing fuzzy lines yet, read the rest of this series here), we want to take a step back and look at the overarching conflict. Specifically, we want to look at the following components.
2) Have I embedded conflict that fits within the story, or does it feel contrived? This is a toughie to gauge for yourself and it's where a really good critique partner can come in handy. But if you notice a tension point that feels out of place, you should probably listen to your gut.
3) Have I varied the forms of tension? It might manifest itself through body language, interior monologue, dialogue, setting, viscerals...basically all the devices we've covered in this series. Make sure you're not relying on the same one or two forms of tension. The greater variety the better.
Your homework, should you choose to accept it: Scan each page of your scene or manuscript and mark the points where conflict comes into play. Analyze the device you've used to portray it, and make sure it's natural to the story while also providing variety for the reader.
Can you think of a classic story and rewrite it without tension, the way I did with Cinderella? Do you have any rule of thumb when it comes to conflict and tension in your stories?
This post is part of the Self-Editing Checklist series. To read the rest of the series, click here.
*Arrows photo by Danilo Rizzuti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net