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Wet Noodle Posse | Blog

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Toss that manuscript!

I want you to toss your 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.
So. Aliens don’t need to land in the backyard on every page. Nor does the earth need to open up and swallow all your characters. But you can achieve tension on every page in a variety of ways.
  • 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!

14 Comments:

At 7:47 AM, Blogger Terry Odell said...

That's fascinating. I've been trying to hike the tension at scene and chapter breaks, but I'll have to give this random approach a try. If I can do it today, I'll be back. I know I try to play against expectations (my 6-6" hero sucked at basketball, and he's a cop with two cats. And a gifted pianist.) One of my other cops is expectedly into bikes, but he's also a gourmet cook.

I think I write relatively short scenes, intuitively because it's easier to hike the tension in small chunks, but I'm intrigued by this random page thing.

 
At 8:40 AM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

Great post, Charity. I'm so computer bound, I don't usually print out my ms until the end, but maybe there's a way to do this on the computer!

 
At 8:48 AM, Blogger Terry Odell said...

Diane, you could just pick a number between 1 and whatever, use the "GO TO" feature in Word and you'll be on a 'random' page. If you want to be anal, you can even use a random number generator so you don't have any subconscious influences on your number selection.

 
At 8:50 AM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

Diane, I was thinking the same thing. We could just enter random numbers in the Go To Page feature. I think it would be the same thing. There are probably random number generators on the web, if you're worried about your subconscious leading. Or we could do it the old-fashioned way -- dice.

 
At 8:51 AM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

Oh, how funny, Terry. Our posts crossed in the ether.

Geeks unite!

 
At 9:00 AM, Blogger Terry Odell said...

LOL Esri -

I will attest to the fact that this was PURE COINCIDENCE and NOT PLAGIARISM

 
At 9:26 AM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

Hahahahahaha!

 
At 10:09 AM, OpenID writingwrongs said...

I work for a software company as a tech writer. All my “books” (those would be scintillating install and admin guides) are virtual.

I still print out my manuscripts like nobody’s business. It isn’t “real” until I’ve edited on paper. More than once. I’m pathetic.

I’ve noticed while doing this that I’ve gone beyond tension on just that page. I worried about continuity, story and character arcs, and so on. I’ve found that I’ve had no trouble remembering what I need to, and if I have ideas for the scene beyond the page I’m working on, I jot notes on the back of that page.

I credit Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook with getting me over the no-sale hurdle (the other credit goes to my writing partner). So I’m biased toward the process to begin with. But that doesn’t mean it will work for everyone.

Charity <--hopelessly addicted to paper

 
At 10:51 AM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

I love this, Charity. It's funny because when I do pick up a book at the bookstore and look through it...there are certains books that no matter what page you turn to there is some of that "microtension" you talk about and those books can suck you in fast whether you open it up to the middle, the end or the beginning. This is a great idea. Love it! Thanks for sharing.

I was thinking of using the GO TO feature too! I think it'll work just as well.

 
At 10:54 AM, Blogger Mo H said...

I knew I needed to read Donald Maass's book again. I'm tossing!

 
At 12:55 PM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

Random number generator:

http://www.randomizer.org/form.htm

I use it for contests.

I don't think I've ever used the "Go To" feature, but I will now!

 
At 4:49 PM, Blogger Gillian Layne said...

Neat idea, Charity!

We are out of here until Sunday, but I'll try this next week.

Have a good weekend, all!

 
At 9:39 PM, Blogger doglady said...

I like this idea. I am off on Sunday and I think I will try it. Sounds like fun too!

 
At 5:09 PM, Blogger Marianne Arkins said...

Okay... am nearly done with my latest WIP. The moment I am, I'm hitting Random.org for ten page numbers and giving it a try.

As you know, I <3 The Maass Workbook.

 

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