1. Lazaares

    Lazaares Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Apr 16, 2020
    Messages:
    502
    Likes Received:
    619
    Location:
    Europe

    Bringing Tension to a Student/Mentor Plotline

    Discussion in 'Novels' started by Lazaares, Apr 30, 2020.

    Putting this in the general writing / novel section because I feel like possible answers can come outside the box (and way outside plot development). See later.

    I have a plotline in my project revolving around a newcomer to politics (student) being taught by someone more familiar (mentor). They attend functions and events together, execute some plots and the student is raised from a fresh graduate/commoner and innocent courtier into a conspirator and politician knee-deep in intrigue.

    This happens over multiple chapters where various political concepts (somewhat unique to my world) are introduced. These concepts are vital to understand the majority of the plot, including other plotlines too (that run parallel). I know, it's a shot in the foot to rely on communicating these elements like this.

    Now to define the "Tension" I refer to; it's not necessary a damoclean sword hanging over the characters, or poof-poof combat (action). More referring to what you feel all the time watching a Tarantino movie or reading a good thriller.

    Issue is, I have trouble finding a good grasp on how tension can be introduced to these scenes / this plotline. I have tried to look around and inspect some other student/mentor stories; and it seems like others had similar issues too. I discovered some answers:

    1. Tension introduced through the "danger" of teaching, EG, Harry Potter & Dementor warding.
    2. Tension introduced through the reveal of what the character is about to face & what they are preparing for. EG, Luke Skywalker training ahead of facing Darth Vader.
    3. Tension introduced through conflict with the teacher (EG, "surpassing the mentor" or "Limited by mentor" tropes).
    4. Tension arising from dubious value to the mentor's teaching (EG, Sansa vs Littlefinger).
    5. Tension through a ticking time-bomb (EG, impending doom, running out of time, evil growing in power...).

    I even considered some out-of-the-box solutions like using other POVs to cause tension and invalidate the teaching (point 4) or use unreliable narration for the same means.

    What do you think about the situation?
    Do you have a mentor/student relationship?
    In general, do you believe a plotline with only a vague thread of tension (hinging on the "what after" question) could ever suffice?

    I have doubts...
     
  2. SethLoki

    SethLoki Retired Autodidact Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 1, 2011
    Messages:
    1,509
    Likes Received:
    1,625
    Location:
    Manchester UK
    I think you have enough, but it seems, as I read it, to loop around the core 'apprentice – master' theme. How's about bringing in:

    6. Tension brought about by secrecy. A lie being maintained by either character and the threats/close calls it brings to their objectives.
    7. Tension, outside tension, imposed on one or either of them by family circumstance. A gravely ill (close) relative whose generally not involved in the plot... moral dilemma.
    8. Tension, short sharp tension, invoked by the clashing of secondary characters in a scene. Angus has never liked Fergus say, and he's suddenly pulled his pistol. < Needs sorting before the plot can move on.

    To broaden the story?
     
    Lazaares, Malisky and Lifeline like this.
  3. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 24, 2019
    Messages:
    6,817
    Likes Received:
    8,067
    Location:
    edge of the spacetime continuum
    Maybe the mentor believes someone only learns by being thrown into the deep end and forced to sink or swim. Maybe rather than telling the student things he forces him to debate with the other side, in volatile situations that can get physically dangerous. You know how politics and religion are. Like dropping someone off in a Trump shirt in front of an Antifa rally to teach them a specific lesson. Learn or die.
     
    Malisky and Lifeline like this.
  4. Malisky

    Malisky Malkatorean Contributor

    Joined:
    Apr 11, 2012
    Messages:
    2,631
    Likes Received:
    4,818
    Location:
    Recalculating...
    I think that tension in these kind of stories revolves mostly around morality themes. The newcomer rebels against the mentor, although the mentor might once have been in a similar situation as the newcomer. The newcomer slowly starts to realise this and starts fearing about his own direction into politics. Turns out it was much trickier than it seemed. After a few tragic mistakes the newcomer starts to understand the veteran more and so begins the open talking and the trusting part. They somewhat meet halfways. The veteran also reflects perhaps due to the newcomer. Then! Conflict again! The newcomer starts losing himself and starts feeling sick to his gut, although he has already achieved to ascend the politics ladder and makes a decision which is once again in conflict with the veteran. They drift further apart again, although the difference now is that the newcomer has gained much more knowledge upon how politics work and can somewhat fight on more equal grounds with the mentor. The fight is on! This doesn't mean though that the two characters don't respect each other, which creates much more conflict. Internal conflict. They know that each one of them is fighting for what they believe is right, but in a different way. So, who's gonna win the final battle? How far are they willing to stretch it out?

    I know that what I wrote is merely a very general scenario, but it's common tbh and it works so... When there is inner conflict too, between the relation of the characters intrigue becomes more intense. A love/hate relationship. A "I respect you but I wish to deplete you" kind of relationship.
     
    Dogberry's Watch and Xoic like this.
  5. madhoca

    madhoca Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2008
    Messages:
    2,609
    Likes Received:
    150
    Location:
    the shadow of the velvet fortress
    You don't mention any personality issues. Whatever the situation, these should also come into play.
    ...Unless your characters are cookie-cutter characters, or totally devoid of emotions or background cultural/social influences.
    (Sadly, I've noticed fantasy characters are often like this and so the storyline relies on external plot devices to propel it, which is why I rarely enjoy this genre)
     
    jannert likes this.
  6. Lazaares

    Lazaares Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Apr 16, 2020
    Messages:
    502
    Likes Received:
    619
    Location:
    Europe
    From the points you brought up this hit me in the chest. Didn't list it despite this being already part of the plotline. Perhaps I should flesh it out more; the fresh graduate is from a distant cadet branch of a major noble house (no longer considered nobility), whereas her mentor is a rival of the main branch's family head. There's already tension between the student & her distant family head, as high nobility don't really like their distant cadets gaining fame (there's an obvious risk of pressing a claim / influence).

    Similar to the first point; I found this is the optimal to maintain a baseline tension / action. The current situation is somewhat alike to a history student finding themselves in an apprenticeship under Frank Underwood. However; the very series quoted also has minor plots, with minor tensions that I am trying to touch onto and see my possibilities.

    Thanks for the reply; your very first sentence made me realize I don't really have a fleshed-out morality for the student character yet; only lending it to her later (which in turn was originally a reaction to the teaching / results). Perhaps if I bring that morality forward to the teaching period, she'll have more reasons to clash, disobey and perhaps explore the situations. Or even more so, allow it to develop parallel.

    It's point 3; I am not specifically looking for reasons of conflict, more so tension (which can happen without direct conflict, or with a more overarching / looming conflict).
     
  7. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    17,696
    Likes Received:
    19,829
    Location:
    Scotland
    At the great risk of sounding like a broken record, have you actually written any scenes with the two characters together? Or are you just planning what you want to happen?

    I would advise you to write a few scenes—even if you don't yet know exactly where they will be leading.

    These should not be 'opening' scenes, but somewhere along the way. If, for example, you have envisioned them going to an important dinner together ...write that scene. Don't worry about explaining how they got there, backstory, etc. Just write the scene as you see it happening. It's the best way I know of to get a handle on your characters and figure out how they behave.

    Pick a point-of-view character and stick with that character during the scene. I'd say it should be third person limited OR first person. Don't go for the omniscient viewpoint here. Your task, should you decide to accept it :), is to get deeply into the perspective of one of your two main characters here. Don't just 'tell' us they did this, then they did that. Pretend you're in the shoes of one of the characters. Either the mentor or the student—but not both. Force yourself to view the scene from one point of view only.

    How does your POV character initially feel about going to this dinner? Excited, worried? Excited about what? Worried about what? Or is he confident, and about to get his confidence shattered? Do they go in as a tight mentor/student unit, and come out with questions about each other? If so, why. Show us how that shift happens. What happens at that dinner to make your POV character go 'uh-oh....'

    I guarantee, if you take time to write a few of these scenes, you will come away with a much better understanding of the dynamic between these two. Don't try to force it. Instead, try to watch what actually happens in this scene—and be as detailed as possible. Don't worry about over-writing. What you're lacking at the moment is insight into these two people. Instead, you're planning what you think should happen in order to move your plot along. Forget your plot. Just let these two characters start to breathe on their own. Let your subconscious take over.

    You may end up not using either of these scenes, by the way. Or re-writing them later on. But this will not be time wasted.

    Have fun doing this. And good luck.
     
    Last edited: May 2, 2020
    Xoic likes this.

Share This Page

  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.
    Dismiss Notice