Monday, June 3, 2013

TENSION on Every Page

By Creston Mapes

There are notes, small and large, taped all over my computer and desk. They hang from my lamps, stick on my phone, and pop out of my pen holder. They’re reminders:
“Things get worse.”
“Turn up the heat.”
“Don’t take the reader where she wants to go—give her stress, strain, pressure!”
“Discombobulate the reader!”
“The secret of breakout plotting is TENSION on every page.”

These reminders are just a few that I’ve written down from favorite books and websites about how to write page-turning fiction. And I refer to them often when I’m writing. In fact, I have a folder two- to three-inches thick entitled, “Writing Tips.” It includes pages of notes I’ve taken from those favorite books and websites, all about writing good, solid, exciting fiction that keeps readers hooked from cover to cover.

When I come to a place in the manuscript where I don’t know what’s going to happen—which is often, because I like to work with a barebones outline—I simply start looking around at my notes, the ones hanging everywhere. If that doesn’t work, I get out the old “Writing Tips” folder and simply begin reading.

Much of the great advice comes from The Complete Guide to Writing & Selling the Christian Novel by Penelope J. Stokes; Stein on Writing by Sol Stein; On Writing by Stephen King; Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass; The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing by Meg Leder, Jack Heffron, and the editors of Writer’s Digest; and Plot& Structure by James Scott Bell.

One of the notes sticking above me reads: “You must not come lightly to the blank page.”Another: “Writing…this is just another job like laying pipe or driving long-haul trucks. Shut the door and get to it.” And another: “Be strong and courageous and get to work. Don’t be frightened by the size of the task, for the Lord my God is with you: He will not forsake you. He will see to it that everything is finished correctly (1 Chronicles 28: 20).”

I also get revved up and inspired by cranking up some of my favorite music. Usually, within a song or two, I am ready to set the reader on her ear with some jaw-dropping twists and turns.

So, take notes when you’re reading those books on the craft of writing fiction. Print out the articles and tips that inspire you. Crank up the music and get motivated to give the fiction reader what he really wants: tension on every page!
Creston Mapes is the author of the thrillers Fear Has a Name, Nobody, Dark Star, and Full Tilt. A journalist, copywriter, and editor, he works from his home-office in Atlanta for some of the nation’s top media companies, Christian ministries, and nationally-recognized corporations. His early years as a reporter inspire many of his novels.