Monday, December 2, 2013

Tackling Tension, Horizontality, and Verticality

In this series about my online writing class, Plot and Structure, through the Center for Writing Excellence, I last posted definitions and examples of horizontality and verticality in What Happened to Goodbye. Our next assignment was to play around with creating tension in our own work. Here are some samples from Chapter 2 of Half-Truths.

In the lesson on tension, Bethany Nuckolls said, “Tension is simply a byproduct of pacing and manipulating time.  Conflict in a story can be heightened or diminished by how fast or slowly you narrate it.  Slowing a scene down and writing longer sentences builds tension… Speeding a scene up and writing shorter sentences gives the reader a sense of movement.  This is particularly effective in action scenes where the character is reacting instead of preparing to react.  This kind of tension is less suspenseful and more shocking.”


In this writing sample I created tension by using short sentences:

"Kate felt a tightness in her chest, like a band pulled taut so she could hardly breathe. No way was there enough space here for Eileen. Or for Speckles. Or for her. How could she ever feel like this was home?"

Bethany commented: “Choppy sounds great.  It's closer to the rhythm of her nervous heartbeat, or her thoughts jumping from one worry to the next.”

In this second sample, I created tension by using verticality (multiple events or times present in the same narrative moment). In this passage Kate jumps backward and forward again in her mind:

"Brave. She tried the idea on as if it was a new pair of riding boots. Took some breaking in, but would fit if she stomped around in the notion long enough. Kate kissed Eileen on the snout and squared her shoulders.  If she’d been brave enough to help birth Eileen in the middle of a hailstorm that threatened to flatten the whole county, she was brave enough to face Grandmother Dinsmore and all her rules and plans.  And hopefully brave enough to walk into Alexander Graham Junior High and make friends with a bunch of snobby, rich girls."

Bethany agreed that the hailstorm was an example of verticality.

In this third sample I created tension by using horizontality (narrative that moves chronologically):

 "Grandmother crossed her arms and scowled. Her eyes traveled from the wisps of hair that had escaped Kate’s braid all the way down to her mud-covered loafers."

Playing with sentence length helped me realize that I tend to write run-on sentences. Breaking them up added oomph and made the narrative more present to the reader.

Bethany summarized this to another student when she said: “There is no ONE rule to apply to all situations.  Rather, this is about realizing how sentence length can change the mood in a scene, and be willing to exploit that fact to your advantage.”  
Horizontal or Vertical: which appeals to you?

16 comments:

Barbara Younger said...

Great post and I love the examples you wrote!

Joyce Moyer Hostetter said...

"Took some breaking in, but would fit if she stomped around in the notion long enough."

Love that sentence! I see change in your writing Carol.

Linda A. said...

Carol,
Keep passing along these valuable tips! Thanks so much@

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks friends! Glad you see some changes in my writing, Joyce. But since I wrote this version (just 3 weeks ago!) I've realized that i need to age my character. Hopefully this "boot" sentence still fits a 15-year-old. Not quite sure about that...

Linda Vigen Phillips said...

Thanks for sharing what you are learning, Carol, and I know it can't help but make your own writing more and more alive! Looking forward to that end product!

Rosi said...

I appreciate all these tips you are posting along with such great examples. Thanks.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks Rosi and LInda! I hope you're right!

Ann Eisenstein said...

Thanks for sharing all that you are learning, Carol! It is indeed helpful to me, as I am sure it is to others. I agree with Barbara, I love the examples that you wrote.

Judy B said...

Thanks, Carol. This gives me great food for thought! A welcome relief from the food of Thanksgiving, I must admit!

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks Judy and Ann. Glad to be passing the information along!

Joan Y. Edwards said...

Dear Carol,
Isn't it interesting how the length of sentences can add or subtract tension from our writing? Thanks for sharing your great ideas to help all of us improve our writing.

Celebrate you
Joan

Carol Baldwin said...

Yes, Joan. It certainly is! And now that I'm aware of it, I play with it even more! Thanks for stopping by.

Kim Van Sickler said...

Great lesson. I wasn't familiar with the terms verticality and horizontality. Always like learning names for the wordier concepts!

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Kim. I've learned a lot in this Center from Writing Excellence class!

sheri levy said...

I'm a little slow at reading your blog, but always look forward to this interesting information.I will go back and see if I can figure out vertical and horizontal line in my story. I do see the difference. I loved your writing samples. Can't wait to read the entire book.
Sheri

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Sheri. Better late than never! I appreciate your support. Try seeing horizontality and verticality in other writers' work. that might help you with your own.