Birth of a Novel Part 14 - Dialog, Answers & Tension

This is the nineteenth entry in my Birth of a Novel series of posts, where I talk about the development of my new YA urban fantasy. Yes, nineteenth, even though the post is entitled Part 14.

Have you ever begun a chapter and stalled? I did. I just sort of wrote some, then got stuck, then wrote a little more, then got stuck again. It was like driving my late 1978 Ford Fiesta, which by the way, was my first car. 800 bucks and a total piece of crap, but it moved.

I digress.

But then all of a sudden, last Sunday, I just had a massive spurt of productivity, and the chapter launched itself from my imagination onto the page. It was, as Peter Griffin often says, friggin' sweet. The chapter is a whole lot of dialog between Zydeco and Octavio, with our young griffin feeling a bit hostile to the old cockatrice.

It all sounds great when you write it, you know? But this involves a lot of dialog, and very little action. As I alluded to in my previous post, I'm most comfy and cozy writing dialog, especially if I know where it's going. The trick is to make sure it moves at the same time. Given that Octavio answers many of Zydeco's (and the readers') questions, it might help keep people's interest. Also, there's emotion and some level of tension.

Here's a snippet of Octavio monologue.

He strode in front of me and leaned in. “It’s important, Zydeco, because you are now human.” He waved a hand as I was about to protest. “You are human now. A mythos, yes, but human. You will continue to keep some of the griffin skills, if you continue to use them. I’ve seen your strength. You should be able to hear quite well, and your sense of smell … well, living in the city, you may want to avoid that particular … never mind. My point is, to survive and indeed thrive as a human, you must forget your past life. Those that have acclimated best are the ones who’ve given up dreams of the past. You want to be stronger than everyone else? You want to eavesdrop or use your super smelling power, or whatever it is you griffins have? Go right ahead. Although, some might consider those things a bit rude.”

Speaking of tension, a few chapters ago, I introduced a "timer", meaning that things have to be resolved by a certain time, one way or another. The classic, "Bring me the ransom by noon, or the hostage dies!" I decided that the timer I'd introduced had too much time on it. Malice set it for 3pm the following day. For a variety of reasons, plot-related and otherwise, I've pulled the timer back in to midnight. This should also raise the tension a few notches. I've received some feedback lately that the tension level in the story has gone down some, and while I'm going to fix that up in my revisions, I wanted to address it going forward as well.

I'm a big fan of Donald Maass' approach to building tension. I love his comments from The Fire in Fiction about micro-tension. He states that what keeps your readers noses rammed right into the book margin (my words, not his), is the constant worry about what will happen in the next few seconds of the book, not what will happen through the rest of the story. And that's micro-tension.

I want my readers on the edge of their seat during this chapter. While they read this dialog, I want it so engaging that they can't wait to hear what the next person will say. 

How do you build tension?

To read about the last chapter, journey back to the previous entry.
The next post can be found by taking a zip line across the tree line to this spot.


Harley D. Palmer said...

I'm not exactly how I build tension. I need to read that link you gave about micro-tension and see if I'm missing something. I guess for me, in one of my novels it's that there are quite a few characters that I switch POV's, so I leave one set in the middle of something and skip to another set - so the reader always has something to wait for or look forward to from chapter to chapter.

Jay said...

Hey, Harley. The link is to his book. But here's a blog that shows an excerpt - http://wordswimmer.blogspot.com/2009/04/beachtalk-with-donald-maass-on-creating.html

Mary Campbell said...

That happens to me sometimes too. I get stuck for a time and then suddenly the words flow. Most of the time though it's like pulling teeth to get the words out.
I have an award for you at my blog.

Jay said...

Me too! Thanks for the award!

Harley D. Palmer said...

I have an award for you at my blog too!

Jay said...

Thanks, Harley!!!!