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Creative writing definition of tension. (1 Viewer)

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Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
When you combine desire (the thing a character or speaker wants-connection, money, to score points, to not be stupid) and danger (the potential harm that will come to a person-rejection, a scam, loss, shame) you automatically create tension.
Desire without danger is boring. Beautiful but boring. (imo it is important to notice the pairing of these two and the examples when you do this independently and on your own). Both are considered separate elements of tension.

Danger without a character's strong focused, clear desire is perhaps exciting for a short amount of time.

Desire+danger=drama. Both are needed for stories and poems.

The four elements of tension:
1. A person with a problem.
2. desire: the person wants something specific- has a strong desire.
3. stakes: what the person wants is very important-it has to matter to her greatly.
4. Obstacles: the person has to be thrwated by obstacles that keep her from getting what she wants. Obstacles can be opponents (another person or people interfering with the goal) or forces (grief, fear, weather, etc). Obstacles need to be realistic and meaningful to have consequences.

Maintaining tension: work with two or three main characters. Never work with a character who is alone.

Think of it as a sporting match.

This is from heather seller's book. I decided to share. This is creative writing terminology.

Anyone want to share any definitions they have for any aspect of writing stories that might help other writers on these forums?

There's is a much longer section on increasing and decreasing tension if you are interested in purchasing the book.
 
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VRanger

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Administrator
Maintaining tension: work with two or three main characters. Never work with a character who is alone.

I don't know what the author was thinking here. There are PLENTY of ways to create and maintain tension with a character who is alone. Wilderness journeys, midnight jewel heists, trapped needing escape, or even just internal conflict.
 

Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
I won't disagree if it has worked for you and that means you succeeded where others have not with it. As well as other writers. Her definition of this includes creating some oppositions. But as she implies some oppositions can be internal. Tension can be also be created by the external oppositions. I think I know what you are trying to say.

According to her you create tension as well when you create juxtaposition of things next to each other. She refers to this as layers because of the juxtaposition of things happening that risk the character not getting what they want (an angry mother, a lost wallet, and so on). More than one thing is going on at once (three or more things are going on at once). She has more than one definition. Multiple problems when added together is my interpretation of a different definition she gives.

She says on three characters that a relationship triangle between three characters works "better" for a lot of stories. Each character represents a different agenda. This is an alternative strategy. Action happens with two opposing stakes/want. The first post is the template for the setup for tension.

"Basic tension" is achieved or can be said to happen when two people are in conflict with each other.

Agenda's definition: desires and needs. As explained this is a way to create some tension. The want/agenda/need can be fueled by opposing stakes/wants. According to her, you need an opposing force.

A traingle has a person whom represents 3 different agendas.

She doesn't say this but:
And society can be an opposing force as can nature, law, or internal conflict. I think I know this by what I read.

She does say this: A desire can be presented both externally and internally. Not forgetting the four parts of the tension that can be used to write a story.

The person tries to get what they want by their actions.

Triangles create complex tensions. Such as in a popular sitcom Friends. This is the case in her explanation with most television shows and movies. You can do write with one character in a novel.

These are guidelines and are not the final word. In creative writing they discuss the terms often. So as to understand stories and to not be confused.
 
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Taylor

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Maintaining tension: work with two or three main characters. Never work with a character who is alone.

Think of it as a sporting match.

I think this only describes one form of tension. There is also inner tension that can be portrayed in a solitary character. For example, the very famous, Crime and Punishment focuses on the mental anguish and moral dilemma of the protagonist who has committed a crime all on his own. He spends the story trying to justify it.

The type of tensions I generally like to read about are created by a character trying to accomplish something, but runs into life's many obstacles. So yes in that sense I agree with "wants something". However, I'm not sure I agree that:

Obstacles need to be realistic and meaningful to have consequences.

"Realistic and meaningful" sound more like criteria from a self-help book on reaching your goals. After all, it's fiction, you can make it as crazy as you want. I think what's more important, is that you tie the motivation of the characters to how they experience tension and deal with obstacles. Because what is seen as tension or an obstacle for one person may be seen as normal daily life to another. For example, a very insecure person may see certain obstacles to a successful romance, whereas a confident person will not. What makes the read interesting for me, is what they are thinking.
 

VRanger

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"Realistic and meaningful" sound more like criteria from a self-help book on reaching your goals. After all, it's fiction, you can make it as crazy as you want.

Not really. Readers are willing to suspend disbelief, but only so far. Selling the reader on tension can involve more than just selling them the current tension is believable. I'll give you an example.

I was an early fan of Alan Dean Foster's Pip and Flinx series. The first half of the series is fascinating. In the last half of the series, Foster sold out and apparently didn't even try to be creative. Virtually every one of those books has a wilderness journey where the hero is at death's door, then saved by ridiculous coincidence. He started to lean SO HEAVILY on this device, he even used it twice in one book.

Imagine how "unsold' readers are when you do the same thing over and over again and resolve it exactly the same way over and over again.

In the same book (wilderness journey used twice), the MC had taken extraordinary precautions to undertake a journey without being followed or traced. Then suddenly, three days into the journey, the villain shows up right behind him. Bear in mind the MC had a three day head start, wasn't wasting time, and Foster sold his preparations for security. So now the villain appears out of nowhere and tries to kill him. Is that tense? No, it's an eye roll.

Now, we all know that (almost all the time) the MC faces a crisis and will eventually resolve it, regardless of bad things which happen along the way. The hero faces danger, he's going to prevail. We expect it, yet the talented writer makes us worry right through the resolution of the crisis, anyway. If the writer does something too often, makes the situations too transparent, or telegraphs the resolution, the reader isn't worried at all. No tension.
 

Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
Well the word "self-help" book carries a lot of mixed experiences and bad denotations for me personally. But I find it more helpful than all the ones I have on my shelf. This is used as a textbook I believe in college classes. The title includes students. It's aimed towards college students and even has group exercises and a workshop section (group section of activities done together). I find it useful, others may not. But anyone can use it. That's according to the description of the book on amazon.

"Realistic and meaningful" sound more like criteria from a self-help book on reaching your goals. After all, it's fiction, you can make it as crazy as you want. I think what's more important, is that you tie the motivation of the characters to how they experience tension and deal with obstacles. Because what is seen as tension or an obstacle for one person may be seen as normal daily life to another. For example, a very insecure person may see certain obstacles to a successful romance, whereas a confident person will not. What makes the read interesting for me, is what they are thinking

Yes I agree and that would be internal conflict. But external conflict was not easy for me to define. I think this definition is what I wanted to read. So that it would take less effort to plot. If you will, I am sharing it in case anyone finds it useful.

But you can't have a good story without both of them. It's worth discussing. Not everyone knows the definition of desire, and danger that explains what drama can be.

Things like opposition can be taken for granted. How a published and successful author does accomplish what they do on the page is an entirely different approach. If you will this tries to explain the how of writing conflict.

Chekhov is one of the very rare few that got away with little plot. IMO this definition allows us to plot. It may not necessarily help you create characters such as in Leo Tolstoy's works. It's a refresher, or a reminder, or anything you decide it is. It helped me understand how to create conflict or drama. It's creative writing terminology supposedly.

To populate a world with deep and complex characters is complex and will always be a mystery unless we try very hard to write them in a story. I don't know if a book can teach that. For me this is the best one I have in my whole collection of books.

Dimension according to this book and mckee is accomplished by having a character behave the opposite way of what is expected of them. That's the only definition it has for character. It does not explain characterization in any part of the book to my understanding. It can help you face the blank page.
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
To populate a world with deep and complex characters is complex and will always be a mystery unless we try very hard to write them in a story. I don't know if a book can teach that. For me this is the best one I have in my whole collection of books.

Dimension according to this book and mckee is accomplished by having a character behave the opposite way of what is expected of them. That's the only definition it has for character. It does not explain characterization in any part of the book to my understanding. It can help you face the blank page.

Yes good point! We have had many discussions on this forum about the accademics of writing versus raw talent. I think most people believe it takes both. But anything that helps to face the blank page is helpful! You have shared many useful resources for others, which is great! What precipitated you seeking out your first book on writting techniques? Do you feel it has improved your writing by a lot or a little?

But in terms of adding dimension to characters, I think there is a danger in making them do the exact opposite. That can be become predictable as well. Do you ever come up with a character by thinking of someone you know? There are so many fascinating people all around us. Whenever I meet someone or communicate with someone I already know, I love to listen to them talk and ask questions about what they are telling me. Little do they know, they may become a character..lol!!
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
Not really. Readers are willing to suspend disbelief, but only so far. Selling the reader on tension can involve more than just selling them the current tension is believable. I'll give you an example.

I was an early fan of Alan Dean Foster's Pip and Flinx series. The first half of the series is fascinating. In the last half of the series, Foster sold out and apparently didn't even try to be creative. Virtually every one of those books has a wilderness journey where the hero is at death's door, then saved by ridiculous coincidence. He started to lean SO HEAVILY on this device, he even used it twice in one book.

Imagine how "unsold' readers are when you do the same thing over and over again and resolve it exactly the same way over and over again.

In the same book (wilderness journey used twice), the MC had taken extraordinary precautions to undertake a journey without being followed or traced. Then suddenly, three days into the journey, the villain shows up right behind him. Bear in mind the MC had a three day head start, wasn't wasting time, and Foster sold his preparations for security. So now the villain appears out of nowhere and tries to kill him. Is that tense? No, it's an eye roll.

Now, we all know that (almost all the time) the MC faces a crisis and will eventually resolve it, regardless of bad things which happen along the way. The hero faces danger, he's going to prevail. We expect it, yet the talented writer makes us worry right through the resolution of the crisis, anyway. If the writer does something too often, makes the situations too transparent, or telegraphs the resolution, the reader isn't worried at all. No tension.

Ok thanks, you helped me understand the words "realistic and meaningful" in this context better. I think I've been to too many strategic planning meetings, so I had a viseral reaction to those particular criteria. But I hear you that it has to be believable, and meaningful in that it serves a purpose for the reader, like it's interesting to read, instead of boring and predictable.
 
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Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
I think it helped me. It recommended some books for further reference. But anyways I rewrote my latest story today with this theory in mind and reading out loud. I had to rewrite by reading out loud my work which I did. I am waiting for a new person to comment. I am thankful for those that commented. I wanted to find out more about books that had writing techniques since I always feared the blank page like every writer. I always wanted to improve my writing skills through books. I had some bad experiences with writing classes. I spent 200 dollars on a screenwriting class that taught me nothing. I think it improved but I can't be sure and today I've just been sharing what I learned. So from here on I will know the answer to that question.

I searched up mckee's quote on contradiction and came up with this. I think it's a clever way to complicate the inner conflict of the character.

CONTRADICTIONS BETWEEN A CHARACTER’S WANTS AND NEEDS
CONTRADICTIONS BETWEEN THE CHARACTER’S INNER SELF AND THE WORLD IN WHICH THEY LIVE
CONTRADICTIONS BETWEEN HOW THE CHARACTER INTERACTS WITH SOME CHARACTERS VERSUS WITH OTHER CHARACTERS
CONTRADICTIONS BETWEEN THE SIMULTANEOUSLY-HELD IDEALS OF A CHARACTER
CONTRADICTIONS BETWEEN A CHARACTER’S IDEALS AND HOW THEY LIVE

I’ve written a number of flash fiction stories—all less than 1000 words—where the main characters feel multi-dimensional. In one of these stories, you really only learn two things about the character: 1. She absolutely loves music and listening to vocal performances; 2. She applied multiple times to vocal performance degrees in college and was rejected each time, and has since given up on singing. Her love of music but her rejection of her own musical self as inadequate creates a contradiction within herself, which sets the stage for the story.


What contradictions has Jane Austen created in Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy?
A Few of Elizabeth Bennet’s Contradictions:


Critical of Mr. Darcy’s pride but holds fast to her own.
Wants to avoid Mr. Darcy, yet finds herself drawn to him.
Only wants to marry if it is for love, yet she is pressured by her society and mother to accept any eligible match.
Instantly trusts Mr. Wickham and accepts his story, yet distrusts and judges whatever Mr. Darcy says.
Wittily expresses views that are not always her own.
A Few of Mr. Darcy’s Contradictions:


Prideful yet kindhearted and generous.
Despises spending time with people he does not know, yet willingly goes to events with Mr. Bingley because he values their friendship.
Feels the need to save Mr. Bingley from a connection to the Bennet family, but unwilling to do the same for himself.
Expects Elizabeth to see and accept his virtues, yet says hurtful things to her.
Sometimes I consciously plan a character’s contradictions, yet often, these contradictions develop as I write. Either way, as I enter the revision process, I refine these facets and how they fit together: this is the cutting and polishing of a gemstone.


A few additional notes on characters:
The core characters should be the most multifaceted characters in a story. Any and all characters can have contradictions, yet if those of a minor character more compelling than those of the main characters, readers can lose interest in the main characters.
Supporting characters can help reveal the different facets of a main character. Robert McKee writes, “In essence, the protagonist creates the rest of the cast. All other characters are in a story first and foremost because of the relationship they strike to the protagonist and the way each helps to delineate the dimensions of the protagonist’s complex nature.”
Multifaceted characters are complex and three-dimensional. After all, it is our complexities that make us human, and it is unravelling and dealing with these complexities that makes a story.
Writing Exercises - Jane Austen Writing Lessons
Exercise 1: Choose one of the following characteristics, attributes, or skills that could belong to a character:


Charitable
Athletic
Loves to read
Hates traveling
Good at cooking
Prone to procrastination
Create a contradiction that could relate to this characteristic or attribute. It could be aspects of this characteristic, how a character applies it in some situations but not other, how it combines or conflicts with another characteristic, or a contradiction between this characteristic and society.


Exercise 2: Choose one of your favorite characters from literature. What are some of their contradictions? If you’d like, share in the comments below.


Exercise 3:


Option 1: Brainstorm a new character that you might use in a story. First, write a brief physical description, assign them several personality traits, give them interests, decide where they live/their occupation, etc., and choose a few key moments from their history/past. Now decide on one or two key contradictions that can make them come alive.


Option 2: For a story that you’ve already written, figure out what the key contradictions are for each of your main characters.
Source after I googled Mckee's quote (originally in the same book by Heather seller) and it led me to this webpage. Keep searching for the answer. I am sure there are some original takes on this quote out there:
http://www.katherinecowley.com/jawl/multifaceted-characters/
 

EmmaSohan

WF Veterans
This seems to confuse the character being tense with the reader being tense.

It is standard to have a tense scene for the reader about a relaxed character. That could violate every principle in the OP, because those are about the character. One can easily have a tense scene for the character and not the reader. That could follow every principle.

This is not trivial, oh ye writers who focus only on the story.
 

Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
This seems to confuse the character being tense with the reader being tense.

It is standard to have a tense scene for the reader about a relaxed character. That could violate every principle in the OP, because those are about the character. One can easily have a tense scene for the character and not the reader. That could follow every principle.

This is not trivial, oh ye writers who focus only on the story.
I don't know at least it seems easy to apply advice that isn't vague. Writing is a hard hobby and business and I get that from this quote. If there is any advice I can follow it is this one because it sounds easy to apply. It's gives craft advice that bears repeating or sharing at least for me. That's why I have the overwhelming desire to share it.

Characters will always take priority. But this was a way for me to stop facing the blank page. Good writing isn't easy reading and I get it. What is the best advice on writing anyone has heard?
 

EmmaSohan

WF Veterans
I don't know at least it seems easy to apply advice that isn't vague. Writing is a hard hobby and business and I get that from this quote. If there is any advice I can follow it is this one because it sounds easy to apply.

Exactly! Popular/successful teachers usually present advice that is simple, clear, easy to teach, and easy to understand. And I guess easy to apply if that might happen.
 

VRanger

Staff member
Administrator
This seems to confuse the character being tense with the reader being tense.

It is standard to have a tense scene for the reader about a relaxed character. That could violate every principle in the OP, because those are about the character. One can easily have a tense scene for the character and not the reader. That could follow every principle.

This is not trivial, oh ye writers who focus only on the story.

This is an interesting take on the subject, but it brought one thought to mind. Who are we writing for? We're not writing for the characters. They have no choice but to feel and react as we command ... whether we do it skillfully or we're ham-handed. We're writing for the reader, and if the reader doesn't react ... doesn't feel, we failed. Everything we do when we write, everything we study, has the hopeful end product of manipulating and improving the reader experience.
 

EmmaSohan

WF Veterans
Everything we do when we write, everything we study, has the hopeful end product of manipulating and improving the reader experience.

So, when you pick up a book on writing, and it promises to tell you how to write a good story, do you say Ugh. Who wants that?

I don't want to troll here. Well, maybe I kind of do, but I concede a good story could be defined as one that has a good reading experience. And then telling a good story is all we want to do.

But I think of them as two different things. Jurassic Park has a scene that works really well when I replay it in my mind, but it doesn't create that same nice experience as I read it. I thought of an event for my story that was simple to describe in one-sentence, and I spent a half hour trying to create the reader experience I wanted.

So focusing on good story might be a bad sign. (Depending on what you want from your advice.)
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
What is the best advice on writing anyone has heard?

I use to do a lot of technical writing. But back then the best advice I ever got was: "Make it easy for the reader".

I'm not sure that still applies to fiction, but I think it could. I still apply it. We'll see what happens when I finally finish my novel!
 

VRanger

Staff member
Administrator
So, when you pick up a book on writing, and it promises to tell you how to write a good story, do you say Ugh. Who wants that?

I can't relate that comment to anything I wrote. If we're talking about tension and characters, I have to believe we're talking about writing fiction, not your theoretical How To book. I can't see how the comment connects. Maybe you can elucidate.

However, since you completely mischaracterized what I wrote, I don't think you're going to be able to elucidate. I don't think you did it on purpose, but you have something completely different going on in your head than what I was discussing.

Insofar as a book that "promises to tell you how to write a good story", I don't pick one up. I learned how to craft a good story 40 years ago, LONG before the glut of how to books. When I look for material that might improve my writing, I typically look for thoughts regarding specific technical elements. Generally, I already know good approaches concerning those elements, but I have tendencies that creep into my first drafts that I try to weed out, and reading about those elements helps me focus on them. It saves a lot of work in revision if I can cut down on copulas as I craft a sentence, rather than having to revise the sentence, for example.
 
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VRanger

Staff member
Administrator
I use to do a lot of technical writing. But back then the best advice I ever got was: "Make it easy for the reader".

I'm not sure that still applies to fiction, but I think it could. I still apply it. We'll see what happens when I finally finish my novel!

It does apply. Confusing a reader as to the meaning of a sentence is a bad thing. If the average reader has to go back over a sentence to "get it", the author blew it.

When Asimov was asked about his main focus when writing, he responded. "Clarity".
 

Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
Aspects of writing such as visual writing can be improved. I have one such book I am planning to acquire for these reasons.

Seems as if dramatic storytelling gets generalized. The word tricks gets a bad reputation. Theory in the context writers refer too when talking about theory is that no one understands it. That it is better to practice finding out. That's doesn't speak for the minority opinion that wants to improve by advice. Craft books are usually horrid. If some people think that a creative writing degree helps by giving help in terms of theory and practice. Why can't a good craft book exist?

As of this writing I went to a non-profit organization that is called Odyssey. They recommend craft books. They may be different. Many good writers have turned out for the Odyssey workshop.

My best goal for using a craft book is to churn out a quick draft. My main reason is to use a microphone which would enable me to dictate my work.

I'm starting to realize how difficult it can be to get it right on the first try.

If anyone needs book recommendations from Odyssey I can give it. The craft books we usually think of are kindle books sold on amazon that aren't any good with people without any credentials, teaching experience, or not teachers.
 
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