1. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Building Tension

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Elgaisma, Dec 2, 2010.

    I have a story with an original wickerman/sixth sense style incident (not quite the ending I wanted to leave it with a happilly ever after ending) - however unlike most stories like that I don't want it to be all about the major plot twist.

    What are good ways of slowly building tension in a plot?
     
  2. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    Foreshadowing. In my own experience this comes through the best if you keep the inevitable horror close in mind while writing everything that leads up to it. Edit out things that stick against this feeling, and replace with various allusions to fatalistic doom. To me, the best plot twists are those you had seen coming on a subconscious level.
     
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  3. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thank you that is very interesting - given me a lot to think about.
     
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  4. Donal
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    Donal Contributing Member

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    I think one of the most tense things is knowing danger is coming but not sure when or how it will happen.
     
  5. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    HorusEye is definitely right about the foreshadowing. To add to that, the way you describe things in general add to whatever tone you're going for. For example, a river can be described as a swirling rope of crystal, or as a murky trench of suction. A fire can be a spark of light or a hellish inferno. If you want a dark tone, describe everything in a dark way. This will add to the reader's "I know something bad is about to happen" feeling.
     
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  6. Celia.
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    Celia. Senior Member

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    i agree totally.
     
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  7. Pythonforger
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    Pythonforger Carrier of Insanity

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    Foreshadowing is, I agree, one of the best ways to build up tension, and if you handle it well enough, it can really be fun to read.

    I once read a dark story where the foreshadowing was so good that every time the MC rounds a corner, I come very close to jumping in my seat. I find myself suspicious of every shadow, frightened by every sudden movement and when the big, bad horror does show itself, I'm not even surprised.
     
  8. Peerie Pict
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    Peerie Pict Contributing Member Contributor

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    There's a book I got from the library a few months ago called Creating Suspense in Fiction by John Paxton Sheriff. I only really recall his insistence that you create tension with vivid description and atmosphere. A lot of it was common sense mind you, but worth a look. I would add to that things like short sentences, snappy dialogue - ways to aid with the fast pacing.

    It's worth trying to dig out the last book you read where you were genuinely riveted. I'd be interested in any suggestions as it seems like years since I've read a book where I've been on the edge of my seat.

    One thing I wonder about with my novel is whether you should build tension slowly over the course of a book until it reaches an unbearable crescendo at the end - OR - if you should let tension rise and fall with various scenes and surprises? I know it's quite an abstract question, sorry!
     
  9. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    Write it in a way that would build tension for you. Show it to somebody else to test out the tension.

    I don't necessarily buy a book telling me how to write a scene though. I don't think there is necessarily a single right way to build tension. A scene can follow a formula and be utterly predictable or defy all rules and be an edge of your seat thriller. Ultimately, I think you just gotta write it the way you think it would build the most tension and then see how others feel.
     
  10. Donal
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    Donal Contributing Member

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    Just read a very good tense scene in Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell only this morning where a young man is having an affair with his boss' wife. His boss knocks on his door when they are in the act. Wife hides and the Husband has a heart to heart with the main character all the while the reader is sure they will be caught.
     
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  11. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    ooh will dig that out - I love Cloud Atlas. Actually only two chapters into rewrite the foreshadowing is going well. It is nice because there are two threads to the story I am able to build up to part of the event without giving the other away/
     
  12. Donal
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    Donal Contributing Member

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    Elgaisma - pages 78-82. Can I just ask what exactly is foreshadowing. I have a pretty reasonable idea that you paint a picture but don't show how it got there or what happens next. Just making sure thats what it is.
     
  13. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    yes - like in one of my stories I had my character have dreams about a Great Skua - later one kills a sparrow that was the bird form of my MCs mentor.
     
  14. Unit7
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    Unit7 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Foreshadowing is basicly clues and hints as to what is going to happen later in the story. For the most part its usually just a single sentence(that or I am just to daft to pick up on alot of it)

    in Under the Dome by Stephen King, he adds a bits and pieces everywhere. Sometimes it was like 'Their life had 42 seconds left to run.' I forget the actual sentence and what exactly came before it.

    Heres another example from the same book

    Basicly thats foreshadowing. Small hints and clues that leave the reader wondering whats coming next.

    Another great book with great use of foreshadowing is The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton. Through out the novel the narrator hints at what was coming.

    It can be more and it can give a bigger picture as to whats to come. In The Orc King by R.A. Salvatore there is a prologue featuring what seems to be a rather post apocalyptic version of the land a hundred years from where the story actually starts.

    How much you reveal and how you go about it is up to you. Sometimes a single sentence hinting at something is all you really need.
     
  15. JeffS65
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    JeffS65 Contributing Member

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    As was stated, foreshadowing is a bit like a 'clue'. They key is to make each 'foreshadowing/clue' incident a point in the story that makes the reader, via the character, ask why they have this new piece of information (clue).

    A clue is supposed to lead you to the answer but clues are often, themsleves, a new set of problems to figuring.

    I'd suggest that you have a sense of what these foreshadowing clues are before you write them. At least a broad idea. This way you have a sense of what each one is and can fit them together as puzzle pieces throughout the story.
     
  16. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I might have to with this one thanks Jeff - with the others they happened more naturally but want to put more thought into them
     
  17. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    As long as you don't overdo things like 'Little did Katy know that this would be the last time she waved goodbye to poor Tommy.' It gets irritating, not least because it's like the writer is being smug: 'I know something you don't! And maybe I'll tell you about it if you keep reading...'
     

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