Micro tension and Empty Bowls

Micro tension. In other words – the little stuff going on that makes the reader turn the page without their eyes glazing over.

I experienced a different kind of micro tension, one that I hadn’t connected to writing. Sometimes, tension comes from apprehension in the character’s head from a preconceived notion of what  might happen based on their own insufficiencies or lack of self confidence. 

I volunteer in my son’s classroom when needed. I told the teacher that I could NOT sew (they make small friendship quilts). So, she asked me to come in and cook. Great.

Like I’ve said, I’m a plotter. I cook from recipes. So, the idea of cooking with first graders without any prep work before hand was intimidating. What if I didn’t understand the recipe? I didn’t want to look like an idiot in front of the kids or the teacher (And I have a teaching background!) It was the fact that I had to show up and figure out what to do. Yikes! 

I arrived and looked at the big table full of ingredients and a crock pot and freaked out a little. But, once I read the recipe and broke it down, the tension dissolved. (If you don’t count the fact that I couldn’t figure out how to use the fancy onion chopper and had no idea what to do with fresh garlic.)

I succeeded. The tomato soup was excellent. I shouldn’t have worried.

If I had been a writer writing this scene in the story, I would have taken full advantage of the opportunity for humor and more tension. Like, the onion chopper breaking. Or spilling the soup and then the teacher slips on it…etc you get the point.

How often do you write with micro tension based on what might happen – instead of what is happening? It’s a good way to foreshadow and build up reader expectations.

**And for those of you that are wondering why they made soup, let me explain. Every year the first grade makes clay bowls in art class. Empty bowls. Then one day the children help to make soups and bread. Parents are invited to Empty Bowl Day where the children serve, wait, seat, bus, and perform. And parents are encourage to make a donation to the Heifer Project to represent their child’s hard work.

Here is my son with his empty bowl.

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14 Responses to Micro tension and Empty Bowls

  1. Terry Lynn Johnson March 5, 2010 at 1:14 pm #

    sounds like a fun day. I’m with you – can’t sew. But I also can’t cook, so I think you have mad skilz.

  2. Jon Arntson March 5, 2010 at 1:37 pm #

    I remember making stone soup and reading the book STONE SOUP, but there we did not have fresh garlic and onion choppers and…crock pots. I cannot cook to save my life, which means I’d starve to death. I am also finicky with food, according to Tina.

    I sewed a duvet cover for a class in high school and it was surprisingly fun, but my chances of becoming any more domestic are still slim to none.

    I like the way you break the idea micro tension down into a fun read.

  3. Sherrie Petersen March 5, 2010 at 2:20 pm #

    What a cool event!

    I write so fast on my first draft that it’s hard for me to get in the details sometimes. But I’m learning to build in more tension and milk the scene for all it’s worth!

  4. Laura March 5, 2010 at 2:52 pm #

    Terry – It was a fun day and I was glad I helped. Especially since I got a lot of extra hugs from my son.

    Jon- I had to make a bag in middle school for Home ec. Can’t say I loved it.

    Sherrie – That’s what revisions are for!! 🙂

  5. Jennifer Shirk March 5, 2010 at 2:58 pm #

    Awww…he’s so cute!

  6. Kelly March 5, 2010 at 3:25 pm #

    I don’t like going into things without knowing the plans either…glad it worked out well!
    That project (the bowl and the soup) sounds so fun for the kids.
    My kids are collecting change for The Heifer Project, too!

  7. Laura March 5, 2010 at 4:14 pm #

    Jennifer – Thanks. I think he’s cute too. He’s the cutie that crashed into the snow bank.

    Kelly – Thanks for following! I truly am a hard core plotter. 🙂

  8. MG Higgins March 5, 2010 at 5:03 pm #

    Your son is such a cutey! And what a great event for the kids. This is a great tip. Next time I’m working on my revision, I’m going to check it for microtension. (I don’t think I do enough of this.)

  9. Anna March 5, 2010 at 6:55 pm #

    I’m the queen of micro tension in real life, so I should definitely focus more on putting it into my writing. By the way, the thought of cooking in front of a while group terrifies me! I’d probably spill scalding soup all over myself. I’m glad it went well!

  10. Laura March 5, 2010 at 8:12 pm #

    MG – There are so many little things we need to keep track of in our revisions. No wonder we can’t all get it right the first try.

    Anna – Thanks. It went well. and I’ll probably use the recipe at home. Even though, my kids are so used to Campbells they probably won’t like it. Oh, well.

  11. Tina Lee March 5, 2010 at 8:59 pm #

    That is a sweet picture.

    Now you have me thinking of micro-tension. There is so much to learn! I really don’t know if I do this. Surely not consciously. Oh no!

    Thanks! I will now pay attention.

  12. Catherine A. Winn March 6, 2010 at 2:57 am #

    What a great day at school and such a good idea for the kids to learn about helping in the community. Love the picture of your son, he’s a cutie.
    I really need to add more micro-tension in my work, hadn’t heard of that term before but it’s perfect. I quickly jotted MICRO-TENSION on a post-it and put it up on my bulletin board.

  13. Laura March 6, 2010 at 12:39 pm #

    Tina – I don’t know if any of us do purposefully at first. That’s what revisions are for.

    CAtherine – Empty Bowls truly was a great experience. And they get to keep the bowls.

  14. Karen March 9, 2010 at 3:07 am #

    Ah, you’re a plotter too! Awesome.

    The fear of what might happen is always worse than what usually does happen. Which can make for some good tension in a story.

    Aw, your son is such a cutie! He looks like he is a sweetheart.

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