Toss that manuscript!
I mean it. Right now. Toss your manuscript … into the air. When you’re done, your living room might look something like this:
Some of you might already know where I’m headed. It’s the famous (or infamous) adding tension to every page exercise from Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass.
The exercise is deceptively simple. Pull a page at random from your manuscript, put your finger on any line, and find a way to add tension to the moment. If it’s already tense, find another line on the page.
Then you continue, pulling pages from your manuscript--at random. This part is key. It must be random. This keeps you from falling into the rhythm of the story, and keeps you from missing opportunities to add tension.
In an interview at Writer Unboxed, Donald Maass says this:
Micro-tension all the time is what keeps readers turning the pages to see what will happen. It’s the big secret. All the big boys and girls use that technique. Why doesn’t everyone else?But what is micro tension?
As Donald Maass says in Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook:
It can be as obvious as a gun to the temple or subtle as forlorn hope. Even the mere anticipation of change is a kind of tension.
- Subtext in dialogue. A character says one thing, but means another.
- Can you make it worse? According to Donald Maass, things can always get worse (in the story). But don’t necessarily reach for the first--and possibly most predictable thing. Instead, ask yourself: What’s the most interesting thing that could happen?
- Surprise. Play against expectations. Contrasts are always interesting (within characters, between them, mood versus setting) and can generate tension.
I won’t kid you. It takes endurance. Hard as it is, it’s also very freeing to concentrate on a single page, to worry about that one moment in (story) time.
Sometime this week, I hope you give it a try. Pull five to ten random pages from your manuscript and take a pen to them. Feel free to post your thoughts and questions about the method here, or even a small sample of how you increased the tension on a single page.
So, what are you waiting for? Toss that manuscript!