Also known as tension.
Adding lots and lots of it (probably far more than you imagined you could or should) is what will make your fiction and non-fiction, pop, sizzle, and sell. It is also what makes a book or a story a page-turner. (Like the novel, The Improper Life of Bezelia Grove, that I read on the plane on my journey home from Nashville on Monday. Couldn't put that baby down, and completed it before the plane touched down in Portland.)
I know that all writers know this. But do we know know it, and fully embrace it? Or do we get lazy and think that enough conflict is enough?
I'm thinking once again about the importance of conflict in writing because of a fabulous lecture I heard last weekend at the Writer's Loft, the certificate writing program I teach at in Nashville.
The lecture was given by my colleague and friend, Linda Busby Parker, and in it she talked about tension in fiction, using short stories to illustrate her points. Linda referred to three different kinds of tension:
- Narrative Tension. This is tension in the story.
- Emotional Tension. This would be tension in character
- Micro Tension. The tension in every scene.
Doesn't matter if you are writing fiction, a memoir, an article, or a book to promote your business–every kind of writing under the sun can benefit from a heaping dollop of additional tension. But how to do it?
One of the books that Linda mentioned is the latest by literary agent and author Donald Maass, called The Fire in Fiction. Maass avows that the key is in the use of micro-tension, saying that with its use, you can fire up dialogue, a passage of description, or narrative–all of which are traditional low-tension traps.
So here's the key to adding in more micro-tension: introduce interior or exterior conflict experienced by the protagonist. And a kick-ass way to do this is to apply the concept of opposing forces. Opposing forces can be set up between characters, between action, in narrative summary, and even description. In her lecture, Linda mentioned hearing this concept expressed by a speaker at a writer's conference in Florida a few years ago. This writer likened the concept of opposing forces to the structural tension that keeps a suspension bridge aloft. And this same writer said that once she started applying opposing forces to her stories, they all sold.
So, opposing forces, micro-tension, conflict. How do you utilize it in your stories and books? What are some tricks you've used for getting more of it into your work?
*This is the first in a series of posts on things that impressed me at the Writer's Loft. We had a great orientation weekend, with lots of fabu new students. Really fun and inspiring. I'll write more about it tomorrow.
**One way to impose conflict on your work is to be able to envision it properly in the first place. Sign up for my free Ebook, Jump Start Your Book With A Vision Board to help you do just that. The form is to the right of this post.
Photo by bialduda.