Tension

Like a tightrope. Around your neck. Cutting off your air. Your eyes popping out. Your brain screaming for oxygen? That’s what you want your readers to feel.

What is “tension”?

Noun: tension
1. (psychology) a state of mental or emotional strain or suspense
2. The physical condition of being stretched or strained
3. (literature) a balance between and interplay of opposing elements or tendencies (especially in art or literature)
4. (physics) a stress that produces an elongation of an elastic physical body
5. Feelings of hostility that are not manifest
6. The action of stretching something tight

Verb: tension
1. Put an object in tension; pull or place strain on

(from WordWeb.info)

 
Have you ever read James Blish’s short story Surface Tension (originally published in the August 1952 Galaxy Magazine and muchly anthologized)? It deals with people striving to break through the surface of water. Any liquid creates a surface where it meets something other than itself. This surface creation is why two drops of water meeting bond into a larger drop rather than staying separate. The permeability of the surface is called “surface tension”. Doesn’t seem like much of a story, does it? People? Water?
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Naming Names

Why did Inez Cloud change her name to “Skippy RunningCloud”? So she’d be remembered!

Ever get stuck naming characters? Oh, how science fiction authors must long for the days when they could name a character “X7” and get away with it. My job title use to be CRO, Chief Research Officer, and I got that title when there were few Chief Research Officers around. People would ask me, “What is your proper title?” and I replied “My proper title is ‘Princess Feldspar of the Tree People’, but I tell most people it’s ‘Chief Research Officer’.”

Most people could remember “Princess Feldspar of the Tree People” more easily than they could remember “Chief Research Officer” and the reason why can help authors create names for characters.

We remember the tangible and the unique better than the intangible and the common.

 
We want readers to remember our main and primary characters, some secondary characters and perhaps even a minor character (if they provide a plot point) because readers tend to like memorable characters. The first step towards aiding reader memory is to give the characters names that are 1) easily remembered and 2) give us a hint as to the character’s character (what kind of person that character is).
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Macauley and Lanning’s “Technique in Fiction”

A worthwhile read to get you to the next level regardless of what level you’re on

Nuance. Technique in Fiction is a must read because it teaches nuance.

It teaches much more. Just when I thought my brain had filled with as much technique and suggestion as possible, there’d be another bit that I had to write down and practice so I could remember it.

The basic takeaway is that authors should read this book after they’ve finished something big (novella, novel, novelette, noveletta, novina…okay, maybe not a novina) so they can figure out how to improve their writing during the rewrite/editing process. Story writers will also benefit provided they give themselves some down time between writing and editing so their minds can absorb what’s in these pages.

Great stuff!
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Characters Part 5 – Stage Direction Characters

They came, they saw, the did nothing else. They’re stage direction.

The last character to define is the one who only comes on stage once, isn’t really acknowledged by any other character and never shows up again. That’s a stage direction character.

Do they show up once and never again?

 
The children pulled back when Tommy picked up the…”
Most readers who read the above want to know what Tommy picked up. The reason some of you want to know Tommy picked up is because “The children pulled back” and humans, because of the way we’re designed, want to know what’s causing defensive reactions (pulling back is a defensive, flight based reaction).
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Characters Part 3 – Secondary Characters

Do they get a name? Are they uniquely described or identified?

 
Does a character provide focus but not often? Do other characters in the story know them by name or by some unique attribute or description?

Any character that gets a name or is unique description/identification is at least secondary and perhaps primary.

Naming Names
Any named character becomes important due to human psychology; describe someone as “a waiter” and we’ve described their function, describe someone as “Bobbie the waiter” and we’ve given them an identity.
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