It doesn’t matter what kind of tension is in your story.
Street chase through New york. A blood thirsty vampire hunting for its next victim. A dark alley when the reader knows something bad is going to happen(which happens way too much). A big secret is revealed that changes the direction of the story. A moment of confrontation. A boy wizard facing his arch enemy.
It’s important to the believability of your story to give your character a chance to calm down.
I knew this but only fully appreciated it last week. At my daughter’s spelling bee. I know. Geez. Not even a hotty fallen angel or vampire involved.
My daughter is a good speller. She won last year. She wanted to win again and felt the pressure. My heart pounded for each kid that willingly put themselves in the spotlight in front of their classmates. Talk about tension. But when my daughter stood in front of the microphone, my heart pounded so hard it almost broke a rib. I think the judges could hear it from the front of the room. Maybe even the first graders could hear down the hall in their rooms with the doors shut while watching a Magic School Bus video on insects. Seriously.
Each time my daughter got up, my hands shook and my heart danced the tango – if someone was watching I’m sure I showed all the classic symptoms of high stress. Now, picture an entire hour and a half of this. I was a quivering, shivering wreck of a mom rooting for her child. She got to the final two. They went back and forth, of course, drawing it out just to torture me. It ended. My daughter won.
And I crashed. Totally.
By the time I got home, I was exhausted. I felt it the rest of the day. And I was not in a life or death situation. No witches cackling in the shadows with a wand pointed at me. No vampires swooping out of the night mist. Not even a big bad bully, which these days isn’t so scary anymore.
But it felt like it.
So, if your characters are being stalked, chased, bullied, or if they are in a spelling bee, remember that they will have side effects of feeling that tension. And giving them a moment to catch their breath and relax will only make your high tense scene, your character, and your story that much more believable.
Now, I’m heading off into my wip to, uh, give my characters a breather. You know, the whole scene/sequel, pacing thing.
What kind of tense scenes have your characters gone through? How do you show them recover?