1. Lifeline
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    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

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    Micro-Tension in your WIP?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Lifeline, May 12, 2016.

    Just found this on another blog: http://www.livewritethrive.com/2014/10/08/infusing-microtension-in-your-novel/

    "Just what is microtension? Just as the prefix suggests, it’s tension on a micro level, or in small, barely noticeable increments. Your big plot twists and reversals and surprises are macro-tension items. But microtension is achieved on a line-by-line basis.
    For example, anytime a character has conflicting feelings, you have microtension. Microtension can be small, simmering, subtext, subtle. Even the choice of words or the turn of a phrase can produce microtension by its freshness or unexpected usage."

    Anyone else use this in their own writing? I have always just referred to 'Associations' when describing this, but I do believe that the term 'micro-tension' describes it better.

    Discuss :D
     
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  2. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Conflict, lots of it... not sure I care whether it's micro or not.

    I had a scene where I wanted my characters to be friends but the critique group thought there should be cross-cultural awkwardness. I re-wrote it and it was much better. It gave me some ideas for a later encounter with reversed roles.
     
  3. Lifeline
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    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

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    For me that term describes word choices, that are creating tension in tiny ways. Not the major conflicts between characters or goals, just the way someone goes about describing them. Describing internal conflicts of the character without going right out.
    Like 'a pen snapped in half', right in the middle of a speech my MC1 gives.
     
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  4. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Oh I love that.

    Another suggestion I got in trying to learn about writing descriptions was to turn the setting into a character or an extension of a character. Awards on a wall but not a single picture of a loved one extends the character's traits into the setting.

    In one of my scenes the son confronts the domineering father. The first thing he does is move a smaller single chair away from his father's desk and replace it with two taller ones. The large, dark furniture in the room feels threatening to the girl with the son. A door locking behind them when they entered the office can be heard.
     
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  5. Lifeline
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    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

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    That is a good one too!
    And a good pointer, thanks :)
     
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  6. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    Every five minutes something is building up to an escalation, in my WIP. Of course when one writes of war things escalate across the board so to speak. Everything is a test and there are no victors at the end of the day, just a mess of broken and disenfranchised individuals doing what they believe is the right thing. Nothing more. Gambling against the Fates is a losing bet. :p
     
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  7. Lifeline
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    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

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    Sometimes. Sometimes not. You can make sure to stand behind a tree :D
     
  8. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I try and make everything integrate. Doesn't always happen in the first draft but there's always some tidbit to grab on for the next draft. In the book I've been reading The Essence of Fiction by Malcolm McConnell he talks about making sure your objects in a setting serve a metaphoric function for the mood of the scene and for the characters. That every verb, noun and adjective serves a purpose. It's not just a desk in a room it's the description of the desk in the room helping to create the atmosphere. How you word it. It's something to keep in mind when I do my next draft of Falling Child Star.

    Oddly enough instinct/your subconscious will lead you to make pretty good starter ideas, it's just picking up on them and polishing them in the next draft. In my WIP I gave my fourteen year old mc a cluttered room full of creativity and the room the director is staying in is glacial white like a blank sheet. I described the platform bed like an iceberg adrift in a sea of ice. Which hopefully foreshadows Kavado's coldness in every relationship he's in.
     
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  9. Lifeline
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    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

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    Yep, this is exactly what I am thinking :)

    One chooses to pick words which describe all the undercurrents which would be much too intrusive, and let the reader pick up on them by himself. For myself I try to let me be carried forward by this 'atmosphere' (for want of a better word), from beat to paragraph to scene. I have found this works well (at least when I myself read what I write, crits may have a different opinion. Note to self: have to get evaluation, soonest!) to create better scene-transitions.
     
  10. zoupskim
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    zoupskim Contributing Member Contributor

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    I like this, and use it in my WIP. Character's disagree on major issues that define conflict, but it's the little things, little slights or comments, that truely keep them apart.
     
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  11. Lifeline
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    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

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    Oh yes.. do keep them apart *evil overlord laughter* :D
     
  12. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    When I first moved to Scotland and started hillwalking with my husband, I was doing it all wrong. I tried to gallop up every hill at the fastest pace I could muster, and I always ended up winded, having to go off and find a place to sit and recuperate before I could continue the walk. My husband, who was experienced at the sport, gave me some really good advice.

    He said to slow down. Way down. To pick a pace I could sustain, BUT to make sure every step I took, no matter how small, got me nearer to the summit. No tangents or false paths. No more one step forward, two steps back. Just one step after another, getting closer and closer to the goal He said, "Always keep going up."

    When I took his advice, not only did I find the going much more pleasurable than before, but I actually reached the summit more quickly, without all the false starts and stops and galloping and backtracking.

    That's a precept I now apply to writing. I try to make sure every little sentence I write has a purpose, and gets me closer to my goal—which is the end of the story. It may be a small thing I'm dealing with in a particular scene, but there is a purpose to that scene, and a purpose to creating some kind of tension or uncertainty in that scene. It may resolve, but it always leads to the next scene, and the next. These are not necessarily big moments, but they are all steps towards the summit.

    Ratcheting up tension in little increments is part of the writing process. Don't be afraid to take time and make these little steps count. Galloping from plot point to plot point is exhausting, not only for the writer but also for the reader. Make the reader look forward to the next step, and make the whole journey as compelling as the ending will be.
     
  13. Sack-a-Doo!
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    In all the books on writing that I've read, I ended up using two of those books as (for lack of a better word) bibles for writing.

    The first, Save the Cat!, helps me block out the (to use your word) macro-tension. Up 'til now, I've been thinking of these as plot points (or what Snyder calls beats), but I think macro-tension might just be a more illustrative term. Because you're right, these points/beats are where tension soars (or at least, it should).

    The second book, Techniques of the Selling Writer, is a more up-close look at what writing entails. Swain talks about scenes where the character encounters obstacles to goals (tension) and sequels in which the character has a dilemma and must make a decision (which I'm interpreting as micro-tension).

    So, my translation from your terms to mine is as follows:
    plot points/beats = macro-tension
    tension = (there doesn't seem to be a term for this except: tension) :)
    dilemmas = macro-tension
     
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  14. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    I hadn't really thought about that. Some other thoughts along this line:
    • dirty socks stuffed into a kitchen cupboard hiding several health food items donated by his mom
    • displayed prominently on a hall table, a framed photo that came with the frame, price tag still on the glass
    • (not possible these days, but back in the 1960s) the five-year-old Buick's plastic seat covers were still in place
     
  15. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Where micro-tension would overcome you because you're thinking about what might happen once you abandon the tree. ;)
     
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  16. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    And I would go a bit further and say:
    macro-tension/beats define acts and overall story flow
    tension/tension is found in scenes
    dilemmas/micro-tension is found in sequels
     
  17. Lifeline
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    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

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    I would define micro-tension not (only) as dilemmas, but as virtually everything which points at an inconsistency, i.e. things which hint the reader that something lurks in the shadows, all is not as it is supposed to be or as he/she expects. This can be a dilemma a character has in itself, or it can be the description of the awards without pictures of loved ones - to hint at the reader that there is something not quite right with this character.
     
  18. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Interesting thoughts. I would have classified all those things as tension rather than micro-tension, mainly because they're present in scenes (where the action plays out moment-by-moment).

    To me, micro-tension is inherent in the decision-making process of a sequel where the character has to decide between (for instance) a) searching for someone with vital information and b) going out to find that same info on his own. Each of those routes may have its own obstacles such as (for a) the expert is inaccessible or holds a grudge and (for b) he may be treading into dangerous territory and taking a physical risk.

    Either route he decides to take has its own obstacles that we'll see played out in the next scene as he tries to get said information. Showing the character's thoughts in the sequel as he mulls over these possibilities and decides which route to take would (IMHO) create that micro-tension in the reader, that "what's he gonna do?" frame of mind.
     

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