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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Pressure Points

One thing I've noticed about rough drafts that I hate is that the tension is always very low. Rough drafts don't make page turners. They tend to be dull, poorly placed, and characters seem to be slacking far to much.

Case in point, editing DoJ chapter 15 I realize my MC is taking a nap. A nap! At heart I knew this was a tense scene, there's a dead body, a culture conflict, some subtle threats, some not so subtle threats, and life or death danger. I tried rewriting. I tried to convey the tension through conversation and concern. And then I realized- the pressure isn't on my MC in this scene. He isn't stressed because it's Somebody Else's Problem.

I had to find the pressure point.

In every scene there is one person who is shouldering the majority of responsibility and who feels the most pressure. When you have a book with multiple view points that best thing to do is follow the person under pressure. People with good lives and no troubles are very dull company.

So, I looked back at chapter 15. Aha! Lord Alope is the one under pressure, and I'm currently rewriting the scene from his POV. Which is why he was the guest character for questioning last night. I needed to understand the bit player who suddenly got promoted to POV character.

I have a scene index for DoJ where I track POVs and action. The next step will be to look back at each scene and see who is under pressure.

I think the first chapter is about right, but several others are off. I'm going to add new POV characters to get the tension right. But, I hope, that adding those view points, showing the political intrigue and the cross-purposes, will add the tension and depth draft four is missing.

So, where are your pressure points? Can you identify who is under pressure for each scene? If you're following only one POV character, how do you make it work? Let me know!


  1. Very good point.

    So, where are your pressure points? Can you identify who is under pressure for each scene? If you're following only one POV character, how do you make it work? Let me know!

    Well, I think my MCs tend to have a, ahem, penchant for getting into trouble. %-)

    In my urban fantasy, Time is Hell, Heckler was usually the one under pressure as I'd given him three or five different conflicts to deal with at the same time; and when he wasn't pressured enough, I could use Widower as a POV character, who has his own problems (and they inevitably make things worse for each other).

    I like to have a good dose of external and internal conflicts, which I think helps (although, granted, we have to care about the character). I especially like pitting characters against each other and not letting one or the other know it until much later. (In TIH, Heckler is supposed to kill Widower and the Hell Team, and Widower doesn't know this until near the end, when he turns on Heckler for it. In my current WIP, I have one MC, Leopard, planning to murder his apprentice Magran until he starts to care about Magran. Of course Magran finds out at the absolutely worst time and it causes much Drama and Conflict for them both and makes everything worse). %-)

    In the novel I'm about to start, YM, it'll be first person and only one POV, so I'm working on figuring out in each scene how to pressure the narrator. She's got to deal with external and internal problems and a love triangle, and since the whole plot revolves around her, I'm hoping I can find a pressure point in every scene. ;)

    As for how to make it work, well... I guess it relies on the reader caring about the characters and making the conflict and pressure... I dunno, personal and meaningful? So we care? So the stakes are raised and we want to know what happens?

    I'm not the best judge of my own stuff as usually I care enough I find the pressure points interesting (and I really have a problem writing a scene where nothing interesting or conflicty happens, even if it's slight, but I could be deluded :P)

    Eh, I ramble. I liked your post, L, it definitely got me thinking about actively identifying pressure points!


  2. That might be my problem. Ice doesn't have internal issues. I've tried, but the boy does not angst. He's a catalyst for trouble though. And in book 2 he has issues, but he's pretty laid back to middle of book 1.

  3. It could be the problem.

    I don't think angst is necessarily what you need, he just needs to want something.

    Like, in NF, Leopard wants to be free of a really bad deal he made with a god, so he sees Magran as his solution to getting out of it. When he starts to care about Magran, he then wants to help Magran but there are quite a few obstacles in his way. There is minor angst but it's mostly him struggling with his own resistance to caring about anyone ever again.

    *shrugs* I'm not sure that's a good example or makes any sense, but I poke them until I find out what they want or else the book generally goes nowhere for me. :S I can only push the external conflict so far...


  4. you are really right about this. I think if you do not find the pressure point in each scene the book will often feel "off" no matter how well it is written.

  5. Ice only wants to keep his job, which means limiting his violence and proving he can find the bad guy. Later on the stakes get raised, he wants more. But to start, keeping his job is it.

  6. Thank you for your post, Lei!

    Yes, you're right. You must have tension flowing through each scene or what's the point of reading? Or even writing? I can see you're bored with your MC.

    I had this problem with Breakaway for awhile. Still kinda do. Naomi is pretty laid back. Really passive. So I'm currently pumping some more excitement into her. This, alone, gives me more to work with when it comes to adding tension. It makes her more likable, and engages the reader more in the story because the care about the MC more.

    If your character won't cooperate, then twist the plot, the scene, or POV to a place where tension exists. You're the author. So start manipulating!

  7. Piece of advice I will always remember, from somewhere in Holly-Lisle-land (probably the How To Write Page-Turning Scenes book, oddly enough):

    Write the scene from the POV of the person who knows the least, and has the most to lose.

    Basically sums up what you've said, I'm thinking :o)