Saturday, April 9, 2011


Sometimes I just don’t understand this whole “tension” thing. I mean, maybe we need a better definition or something. What is it in stories that keeps us turning pages, exactly? It’s not tension alone, not just a fight. I get bored quickly, in fact, when a battle goes on too long. And I hate problems just for the sake of problems. Then there are other times when something captivates me and I don’t know why at all. I analyze it, but there doesn’t seem to be any recognizable tension in the scene.

I’m reading a book about story structure that deals with scene and sequel, and I’m trying to figure out if people actually, consciously apply this sort of thing when they write. At the same time I’m analyzing this book I’m reading and I love so much: Dexter. According to the book on structure, scene is made of about 90% tension. Scene is also a play by play type of thing where there is no summary, no real depth of thoughts or feelings, just action between one person and another.

So there are “scenes” in Dexter that fit the profile of scene as far as play by play, but for the life of me, I can’t figure out what the tension is, and yet I am still riveted. Also, sometimes he goes into periods of deep thought, which is fascinating to me, and he’s not always interacting with another person. For example, this man, a serial killer, takes his girlfriend’s son out fishing, and they just fish. No tension; a lot of thought; not a lot of interaction. And yet fascinating. I maintain that there’s no tension because I know Dexter won’t kill the boy—you don’t even fear that possibility. But what does fascinate me is that here is this serial killer, being domestic. It’s outside of his norm. So is that tension? And if so, can’t we describe the term better so that people who are learning to write, like me, know how to create it?

Do you have any ideas as far as what makes a page-turner?