Friday, October 3, 2008

Tension in the Break out sessions ~GASP!~ Poetry Blender

So, did my title for today's blog catch your attention? Did it make you wonder what the topic was about? I hope so, because I'm trying to apply what I learned about tension from my second breakout session with Author Mark Johnson. (Yes, we're now back to notes from my SCBWI Carolina's conference)

We were given a list of 10 rules for creating tension. I'm just going to focus on the first one. Maybe I'll touch on the other points on another day.

Rule #1 Start the tension ASAP!

So, I decided to look at the first paragraphs of two current books that many people are calling "page-turners" "The Hunger Games" by Suzanne Collins and "The Adoration of Jenna Fox" by Mary E. Pearson. I wanted to learn how they create tension right away. Here's what I learned from their opening lines:

"When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim's warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress. She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother. Of course, she did. This is the day of reaping."

Create Tension by leaving hints. Make the reader wonder . . .: We don't know what the day of reaping is, but we know it's bad enough to cause bad dreams. We also know by the set up that there is a tenderness in the relationship between the protagonist and Prim. The reader is left to wonder about Prim and what may happen to this character later in the book.

"I used to be someone.
someone named Jenna Fox.
That's what they tell me. But I am more than a name. More than they tell me. More than the facts and statistics they fill me with. More than the video clips they make me watch.
More. But I'm not sure what.
"Jenna, come sit over here. You don't want to miss this." The woman I'm supposed to call Mother pats the cushion next to her.

These simple lines burst with relational tension and leave us wondering and wanting to know more.
Who is Jenna Fox? Why doesn't she know who she is? What happened? What more is there?
We immediately see inner conflict in the protagonist as well as conflict with her mother. These end up being key issues throughout the book.

1) Neither hit us over the head with facts nor melodrama. They reel us in nice and slow.
2) Both "hint" at the conflicts that drive the action forward through the entire book.
3) They start out making the reader wonder what's going on and makes us ask "questions"

Are there any other insights you can gain from these opening lines? I'd love to hear your insights!


Tabitha said...

Nice post! :)

I haven't read The Hunger Games yet, so here's my reaction from a cold reader.

These opening lines show me the closeness between the main character and her sister. Plus, the fact that the MC is reaching out shows that she's looking for something more. Reassurance, possibly, in the normality of her sister being there. But she's not, and the sister has sought reassurance elsewhere...which the MC understands, but I'm guessing she still feels a slight sting. Just my guess.

I sure want to read more! :)

beth said...

What an excellent way to apply what you learned at the conference! I attended that workshop, too, and thought it was fascinating. (I was sitting in the second row on the left hand side--where you anywhere nearby?)

C.R. Evers said...

Wow Tabitha! You're good at this! She's reaching out, looking for something more. ohhhh! I like that! Good stuff!

Hey Beth!
I was on the left side kind of in the middle row. I can't believe I never ran into you!

adrienne said...

Initially the first one jumped out at me because I heard recently that editor's cringe when a book starts with someone waking up...
What I like in both examples is the mystery they create right away.

Colorado Writer said...

Great post!!!!!!!

Kelly said...

After reading both paragraphs, I know I'd love to read those books...
And also, I was really wondering what kind of tension was at the conference! :0) That was a great attention getter!

sruble said...

Thanks Christy - great post. The Hunger Games was an amazing book, but it took more than a couple of paragraphs to pull me in (probably because I had heard so much about the book before I read it).

Adrienne: When I've heard editors talk about not liking waking up scenes to start the book, they talk about the normal waking up stuff that everyone knows, like brushing teeth, getting ready for school, etc. Something that most kids do on a daily basis.

I think the reason that waking up works in this instance, is because it's not typical. This passage hints at what's to come in the book, you know that it's not a regular morning, and that it's not a typical, contemporary setting/story. Plus, there is a mystery right away. What is the reaping, and why does it give Prim nightmares? When you can pull that off, then it's probably ok to have the character waking up in the beginning.

C.R. Evers said...

Adrienne, that struck me too about The Hunger Games. I always heard that about "waking up" too. I guess that goes to show that if something is done well enough and has has good reason to be there, the rules can be broken from time to time.

Thanks Steph! :0)

Kelly, Oh goodie! I"m so glad my title hooked you! :0) It was sneaky, but I had to try it.
These really are both great book!

Sruble, good point about the "waking up" scene. Everything in this first paragraph has relevance to the story, so I'm sure that's why it was able to be a "rule" breaker.

Thanks everybody! Great insights!

Angela said...

Great idea for a post. I haven't read either of these books, but these opening lines sure make me want to. I'll add them to my list--thanks!

Brenda said...

I've not read either book yet, so both beginnings left me wanting to know more...

I'm curious about the relationship between Prim and her sister and why the day of reaping gives Prim nightmares...???

I want to know what happened to Jenna Fox...does she really not know who she is or is she just feeling like she doesn't belong in her life right now...???

There is just enough unanswered questions to make me want to read and find the answers...

Janelle said...

Great post, Christy!