Aftermath of tension. You gotta have it.

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?

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14 Responses to Aftermath of tension. You gotta have it.

  1. Heather Kelly February 3, 2010 at 3:00 pm #

    I was right there with you, and now I’m exhausted. Congrats to your daughter. Great post.

  2. Laura February 3, 2010 at 3:11 pm #

    But the spelling bee tension isn’t over. It will slowly build over the next couple months until the regional bee. Tension squared or tripled. Quadrupled!

  3. Jon Arntson February 3, 2010 at 3:32 pm #

    Re: March is Classic.

    I created the event for myself and anyone that would like to join. In truth, I don’t care if you only read Amazon summaries, you do what you want. Just know, when someone asks, “What did you read for March is Classic?” it’s up to you to not be embarrassed.

    Challenge: Read one classic, my pick, and I’ll cut you some slack 😉

    Let me know if you accept.

  4. Heather Kelly February 3, 2010 at 4:24 pm #

    I think that Jon just threw down the gauntlet. Them’s fightin’ words!

  5. MG Higgins February 3, 2010 at 4:26 pm #

    Loved your description. I could feel your heart pounding. If you write scenes like that in your novels, you for sure need to give your characters breaks! Great tip.

  6. Laura February 3, 2010 at 5:10 pm #

    Jon – I’ll ponder it over while drinking blueberry coffee. Does Count of Monte Cristo count as a classic. I’ve read it twice in the past 10 years?

    MG Higgins – Who knew spelling bees were so nerve wracking? I think it’s worse for the parents!

  7. Anna February 3, 2010 at 7:17 pm #

    Congrats to your daugher! You’re absolutely right that tension is physical as well as mental. I had to drive in really bad weather the other day and I was physically exhausted afterwards. Great reminder to pay attention to the physical as well as the emotional in writing!

  8. Laura February 3, 2010 at 7:20 pm #

    Oh Anna, I agree. Driving in pounding rain or a white out due to snow and fog is very stressful! I’d crash after that too.

  9. Tina Lee February 3, 2010 at 8:12 pm #

    I’ll pay attention to this in books. I’ve never really thought about it. And I have never read the Count of Monte Cristo either! Hmmm.

  10. Terry Lynn Johnson February 3, 2010 at 10:58 pm #

    Great story – thanks for sharing that! And so true about resting after tension!

  11. Kristen Torres-Toro February 4, 2010 at 1:50 am #

    Aftermath is so important! It really helps with character development too to see how they react to things.

  12. Laura February 4, 2010 at 11:55 am #

    Tina – I’m sure in most books, it’s so subtle we never notice it!

    Terry Linn and Kristen – Thanks for stopping by!

    yay!!! I’m home!

  13. Elliah Terry February 10, 2010 at 4:36 am #

    Great tip! I’m going to have to check up on all my high-tension scenes and make sure they are followed by a little bit of rest!


  14. Laura February 10, 2010 at 12:58 pm #

    Thanks Elliah! I need to check and make sure too.

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