1. Maxitoutwriter
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    Maxitoutwriter Member

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    How do you show fear and create tension?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Maxitoutwriter, Apr 19, 2013.

    Hi,

    I want to know how to show fear and create tension. Any tips or advice is appreciated. :)

    Thanks in advance.
     
  2. SwampDog
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    SwampDog Contributing Member

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    It's very easy to create tension. I'll explain how later.
     
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  3. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    Through thoughts, statements, and actions. I need a more concrete, specific question to be able to give any meaningful advice.
     
  4. Maxitoutwriter
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    Maxitoutwriter Member

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    I see what you did there. :)
     
  5. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Are you needing to show fear/tension in your point-of-view character, or as something he/she will witness?
     
  6. funkybassmannick
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    funkybassmannick Contributing Member

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    Fear can be conveyed with the right details. Definitely don't overdo it with details, either. The simple description of a knife scraping across stone can be more terrifying than an entire paragraph of description.
     
  7. Maxitoutwriter
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    Maxitoutwriter Member

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    Thanks! Superlative advice. Less is oftentimes more to be certain.

    My trouble is figuring out how to do that in the right way.
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    To create tension, first make sure you understand the dynamics of a plot. You can modulate the intensity of a plot by amping up both the motivation and the opposition for the same actor and goal.

    Example scenario: A man, lost in the woods, needs to reach a fire tower he can see atop the next hill.

    Not bad. He's lost, tired, and hungry, and needs help.

    Now ratchet it up. He has been bitten by a timber rattler. If he doesn't get medical help soon, he will die. The venom is making it difficult to walk, and he is increasingly feverish and disoriented.

    That's how you increase tension. Add time pressure, or increase the stakes of reaching or failing to reach the goal, and at the same time, make the goal more difficult to attain.
     
  9. Maxitoutwriter
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    Maxitoutwriter Member

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    Either, or.

    In fact, both.

    I'm interested in learning both; the story has both things happening. I'm looking for any way possible to make it more terrifying.
     
  10. Maxitoutwriter
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    Maxitoutwriter Member

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    Excellently thorough advice, my good man! Thank you! :D
     
  11. Sargon of Akkad
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    Personal investment. I have to care about the character and the character has to care about the situation. They need to be invested in what they're doing, and stand to lose something important if it all goes badly. Therefore, I care that the character wins, and if there's a chance of them not winning, I'll be on the edge of my seat.
     
  12. ChaosReigns
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    ChaosReigns Be Still and Know Contributor

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    This is an excerpt from the horror piece i am writing, its still not edited fully so its still not complete

    Click, click, click, click, tap, click, tap, tap, tap, click, ta-tap, click, chink.

    “Jeeze what the hell is going on” Brandon thought to himself, eyes shut “hang on, I’m alive? How is it possible? I thought….” He opened his eyes to find himself blindfolded, lying flat on what felt like a bed of some sorts. “Bloody blindfold, not like I can do anything now is it? Last thing I remember I was in bits on the ground amongst some… some…. Oh I don’t know I was on the ground in pieces…. Pieces… yes that’s it… bodies, parts of bodies…” he reached up to remove his blindfold to be stopped by something when his hand touched his face.


    but this is how i do it, confusion, this pars begins a section after a flashback, before the flashback the character thinks he's going to die, probably not the best example, but like i say, it hasnt been completely gone through and edited yet, so this could change
     
  13. TerraIncognita
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    TerraIncognita Aggressively Nice Person Contributor

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    Body language is an excellent way to convey that things are serious which then creates tension. What do people do in tense situations? Examine people and see how they behave. They cross their arms, they fidget, they throw things, move things with more force than necessary, they hold their wrist or arm, the hunch over, they stand straighter. The reader will pick up on it because we all pick up on body language every day on a conscious and unconscious level. Body language is always important in conveying a character's emotions in an unspoken manner.

    Another way to help you create tension between characters is to look at things differently. Realize that in any given argument both parties believe they are right even if they are in the wrong. When characters argue it's important to remember that. In very heated situations people often back each other into a corner so that neither feels they can back down. It also depends on the personalities of the characters. Just because someone is defensive it doesn't mean they are wrong. Some people are just predisposed, by their personality, to be more defensive or aggressive. Some people will be more willing to concede than others.
     
  14. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Another good device is to let the reader know something the MC does not know, such as the bad guy is hiding just behind a door that the MC is approaching. The reader's reaction will be, "Don't go there!"
     
  15. mbinks89
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    mbinks89 Active Member

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    Cliff hangers at the ends of chapters. Short paragraphs conveying simple actions and details that impact your plot.
     
  16. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    One thing I would emphasize is not making an explicit point of how scary things are. That is, telling us, "Joe had never been so terrified in his life," or "It was a terrifying, bloody scene," doesn't pull the reader in at all - in fact, it's clear that you want him to be scared, and he may decide, bleah, he's just not going to be scared. You have to earn the fear, but you can't ask for it.
     
  17. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Truth spoken here.
     
  18. Stukov
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    Stukov Member

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    To sort of reiterate on what ChickenFreak just posted; I read a nice little piece of advice in a book a while back that said something along the lines of "don't tell your audience, show them". If your character walks into a room and witnesses the most gruesome murder scene ever, don't just write "It was a terrifying sight". Get to the nitty gritty and describe why it's terrifying, write about the pool of blood leaking into the gaps in the floorboards and the victims vacant eyes staring directly at you, the murder weapon still embedded in the side of his skull. Never just say how you want your audience to feel.

    Though to counterpoint that, tension can be built just as equally in what you don't show as what you do. Painting a picture in the readers head but leaving just a few gaps to keep them on edge works very effectively if you leave out the right details. It's one of the reasons I absolutely love the work of H.P. Lovecraft, the man knew exactly what not to say to make you jittery.
     
  19. sanco
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    (For me. Not the absolute model.)

    Tension = the uncertainty of what may happen. Intensity may vary according to the stakes as Cogito pointed out (will he die or survive?). A genius example of great tension is the robbery scene in "Killing Them Softly". Tension can also exist in the relationships between characters, if they have conflicting views or conflict in general.

    Suspense = when the audience knows something the character(s) don't. This theory was used by Hitchcock, who was considered to be a master of suspense. In an interview, he gave the example of 4 people sitting at a table, having a 5 minute conversation about baseball. At the end of the conversation, a bomb goes off. The audience is left with 5 minutes of boring dialogue and 10 seconds of shock. However, if you told the audience from the start, that there was a bomb under the table that will go off in 5 minutes, the conversation about baseball would become vital and have the audience on edge.

    Fear = For me, fear is quite similar to suspense. As a writer you should be planting seeds and suggestions in the audience's minds about the worst thing that could possibly happen. Funky gave the excellent example of a knife scraping across stone.

    Note that these are not mutually exclusive.

    (edit) Oh, and all three of these will probably fail if your audience doesn't care for the character.
     

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