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?|