Tags:
  1. labelab

    labelab Member

    Joined:
    Feb 12, 2019
    Messages:
    82
    Likes Received:
    57

    How to diffuse tension?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by labelab, Aug 7, 2019.

    Okay, so here’s my problem. One of the most difficult things I find as a writer is building up tension and then diffusing it. For example, a character is falling towards the floor when a rope grabs him. Say I’ve built a few paragraphs of description and thought as he falls, fear of hitting the floor etc. What comes next?
     
  2. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    15,710
    Likes Received:
    17,382
    Location:
    Scotland
    Think about how you would feel if you were falling (maybe to your death) and suddenly something saves you. What would your feelings be? Explore them thoroughly. Obviously relief ...but would you also suffer after-effects? Need to go lie down, take a pill? Have a stiff shot of something alcoholic? Would you get the giggles? Would you become hyper-careful, or lose your nerve to carry on with whatever you were doing when you started to fall?

    In terms of falling, probably don't spend too much time on the 'thoughts' of the character, unless he's dropping out of an airplane or something that takes a long while. Most falls don't take much time at all. It can be kind of silly for him to spend too much time ruminating about falling while he's in the air. For ordinary falls, you usually have time to think 'oh, SHIT—' before you hit wherever you're going to land. Your life really doesn't flash before your eyes. Probably best to build the tension BEFORE the fall. If the character is in a precarious situation, he can certainly picture all the things that could happen if he loses his grip—which will build tension. But once he actually does lose the grip, probably best to make the thought processes short.

    From a writer's point of view, also be careful that you're not constantly creating 'tension' in the reader when it doesn't serve a purpose. The reason I mention this is because I just encountered it in my face to face writing group. One of my friends read a chapter from his WIP. He's a really good writer, and he was foreshadowing like crazy, we were on the edge of our seats, something was going to HAPPEN ...and then it didn't. It all fizzled out. He didn't realise the effect this would have on us. We were sorta disgruntled that we'd been led to believe something important was going to happen, we got all wound up ...and then it didn't.

    If the foreshadowing and tension is to play a part later on in the story, ensure that even if it's temporarily relieved, the reader still has an uneasy feeling about it. That's what my friend said he's going to add to that chapter. The sense that things are NOT finished—not by a long shot. Saved by the bell, but there's a lot more to come.
     
    Katibel, peachalulu and labelab like this.
  3. labelab

    labelab Member

    Joined:
    Feb 12, 2019
    Messages:
    82
    Likes Received:
    57
    so wise.
     
  4. Kallisto

    Kallisto Ruler of the world... somewhere... Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 23, 2015
    Messages:
    557
    Likes Received:
    503
    Humor is a good way to defuse tension. In fact, comedies do this a lot to keep their tone even, especially if they have to raise the stakes.
     
    labelab and jannert like this.
  5. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 7, 2016
    Messages:
    3,910
    Likes Received:
    3,123
    I say let him hit the floor. Sorry, I'm having one of those days.
     
    labelab likes this.
  6. Gallogladh

    Gallogladh Member

    Joined:
    Aug 17, 2019
    Messages:
    24
    Likes Received:
    20
    He doesn't hit the floor. If your readers have an emotional stake in his success and survival, that alone will diffuse tension and provide relief.
     
    labelab likes this.
  7. labelab

    labelab Member

    Joined:
    Feb 12, 2019
    Messages:
    82
    Likes Received:
    57
    I see. But how would I write the specific sentence that he didn't hit the floor? It's the way to phrase it that confuses me.
     
  8. Katibel

    Katibel Member

    Joined:
    Mar 18, 2019
    Messages:
    80
    Likes Received:
    105
    "I close my eyes to see my sister playing in the backyard. Those were the good days. My mother comes out with a hot pie--she used to love baking, before we had to say goodbye. I can almost feel the way she used to brush my hair back before something snaps at my ankle and jerks me away. My eyes pop open to see, not my childhood home, but the craggy surface of the cave wall. The shadows between the rocks look like faces I've known, and that's all there is for a while."

    I don't know, something like that if you're looking for a bad example, haha. I would say...keep the rescue as short as it might be experienced, and make the character's reactions believable.

    My personal experience reacting to these types of "I am going to die" scenarios is one of fight or flight induced shock & confusion, or delayed terror. It all depends on my mental state going in.

    Shock & Confusion: I'm stunned by what mine eyes have just beheld and am probably seeing horrifying flashbacks, leading my body to believe I'm still in a "about to die" state. My heart is pounding at an unhealthy rate. I'm also most likely confused about where my body is or what I should be doing and may start crying soon. Relief is generally the last thing I would feel.

    Delayed Response: I feel like nothing happened, but three months later I get flashbacks and night terrors. (PTSD)

    Hope that helps!

    (Edit: However, apparently, the sound of intense crashing and flailing downstairs in the dead of night causes me to laugh after the initial panic. Don't worry, the sound was actually from the bathroom and it was the shower holder falling off the wall! Geez.)
     

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