The Healer and the Pirate

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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Writing Wednesday - Too Much Tension?

So most advice I see nowadays says to make sure you include conflict in every page, end every scene or chapter with a cliff-hanger, and end most or even all scenes with things getting increasingly worse for your characters. That can make a gripping page-turner (Hunger Games, some romances). But I think it has potential to get dull and predictable, and/or to be ridiculous.

Spoiler alert if you watched ABC Tuesday night about 3 weeks ago.

Now, I may have misunderstood this scene, seeing as I didn't even make it through the actual pilot episode of this superhero show, and haven't seen a full episode since. But I tuned in about 10 minutes before the end, and saw a shape-shifter (in the form of Hero) fighting with Hero in Hero's home. After a long fight, one of them finally goes down.

Some time later, Wife of Hero comes in the door. (At least, from the little I've seen of the show, that's what she seems to be primarily--not so much the Heroine.) Anyway, Wife sees Hero on the ground, apparently dead, and starts crying over her dead husband. Eventually Hero comes out FROM UPSTAIRS and explains that no, he's alive, don't be sad, etc.

I know television men are not much for cleaning up, but seriously, Hero, the polite thing to do would at LEAST be to leave your wife a note! "Sorry, honey; killed shapeshifter in living room. Will clean up later. Love, Hero." Even better would be to clean up the body, or at least be in the same room so your wife doesn't think you're dead.

If I saw that scene correctly, that was a trademark example of when supposedly "increasing the tension" is just plain gratuitous and silly.

In the show that followed, the female lead's long-lost divorced or separated husband finally returned to her life. After about 3 episodes, the pair were rekindling their love, it looked like they were going to be a family again, etc.

Right then, I figured lead's ex was not long for this world. Sure enough, by the end of the episode he was full of bullets (and yes, really date, anyway; characters on that show tend to rise again...).

So in that case, following the plan of "how can we make things worse for the characters" actually led to a certain predictability. I even found that true somewhat in Hunger Games, where you knew things just HAD to get worse, to the point where I got somewhat jaded to the horrors. As a Christian, I don't like when that happens.

Now, in fairness, most advice saying you should have "conflict" on every page specifies that by "conflict" they don't necessarily mean violence. But I don't of the reasons I read (and write!) is to feel and share joy, and I feel like lately there's a really heavy focus on the drama and angst, with very little joy and wonder. Can't there be a balance? Of things I've read that were written fairly recently, I'd say maybe the first few Harry Potter books achieve this--the joy and wonder of the wizarding world coupled with some darkness. Romance novels can sometimes pull it off (again, I haven't read many, but they can couple horrific danger with the wonder of meeting one's soul-mate).

I don't know. Tough call. Do you think writers can take "tension" and "conflict" too far?

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