Saturday, February 1, 2014

Creating Tension in Scenery

A writer friend shared this tip, from Donald Maass's, "Fire in Fiction."

Determine the point of view of your character about the scenery or objects in your book. Put in scenery or objects that the characters have feelings or opinions about....good or bad and even have them disagree about these feelings which can up the tension. 

Making the scenery, and differing opinions among characters, is a great idea to both add to the scenery that surrounds the characters and add a layer of character development. It also puts more tension on the page, possibly adding another obstacle for the protagonist to overcome.

In the book I just finished, "Moxie and the Art of Rule Breaking," the main character loves living near Boston, but her mother is thinking about moving to New Hampshire with the boyfriend, Putrid Richard. Among other things, this is a source of tension in the book. Moxie clearly loves being able to go to Boston with her best friend, has great affection for the city, and doesn't want to move away.. She hesitates to give her mother any reason to move them away from Boston, especially when Moxie and her family may be in danger.

The tension anchors the reader to the place and adds importance to the scenery in the story. This helps make the images come to life for the reader. I am rooting for Moxie to stay in Boston. Her descriptions of Boston are more poignant, and make me love the city more. 

I noticed a similar theme in the book, "Tell the Wolves I'm Home," which was reviewed on this blog. The main character has a stated affection for the city, and the apartment her uncle lived in up until he died. What his surviving lover does to the place adds color and tension to the scene. His overflowing ashtrays and clutter change the apartment, and create a new scene that adds to the hardship in accepting her uncle's death. 

One of my favorite things about a book is its ability to paint a picture and capture a scene that comes alive in my mind. Creating some tension in those scenes can make those descriptions come across more clearly and without the dreaded list of details. The tension also attaches a feeling to a place, which further invests the reader. 

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