Read my guest post on Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar’s blog: ‘How to Write Strong Female Characters‘ It’s not exactly a tutorial, but it shows what difficulties are faced and some possible solutions when writing female characters from a male feminist point of view.
What more can be said of Tom Cruise in sci-fi roles? He always seems to deliver, so I was expecting something a bit special when I sat down to watch Oblivion last week.
Things were looking good after half an hour; great sets, great scenery and great special effects. Cruise was, as usual, dry in his delivery of Jack’s lines and held my attention.
But then I noticed something odd; Andrea Risborough, as Jack’s girlfriend and teammate Victoria, was acting badly. I thought, ‘Oh yeah, she must be an android and this will all be explained properly later,’ but no, the further into the movie I got, the more it became apparent that Victoria was human, and therefore badly portrayed. I am not saying Risborough can’t act, but she must have been at least badly cast here. It makes all the scenes with Cruise wooden and the love-making scene was just embarrassing.
But then along comes Olga Kurylenko. I won’t spoil the plot by telling you what relationship she has with Jack, but her acting is convincing and the story began to take off.
So you have your plot of Rudolph’s adventures all worked out and you know where the climax and twist will be. Now you are considering writing the climax and want to know how to show tension when Rudolph can’t get the tractor down a narrow alleyway, or gets stuck in a snowdrift. So how do you show the tension?
It’s not as easy as you might think!
Action Words and Expletives
The first rule is to use more action words when you are writing action sequences. These are words like ‘ripped,’ ‘spun,’ ‘yelled,’ ‘wrenched,’ and ‘panted.’
Here is an example. See how this sentence sounds quite calm.
– He knew he needed to get through the door. He put down the axe and walked up to the door. He pulled on the handle and it opened. He went thought the opening and all was well.
That definitely lacks tension. Let’s try it again:
– He had to get through the door. He only had seconds left! He threw his axe down, spun round and leaped toward the door. Grabbing the handle, he pulled and pulled but the door wouldn’t budge. Using all his strength, he gave it one last almighty heave and wrenched the door open. The wood cracked and splintered as the lock broke, and he was through!
“What’s the problem Rudolph?” Santa yelled.
“The door! It’s bloody stuck!”
Okay, so I went a bit over the top there; it’s twice as long. But it’s much more exciting.
Notice the use of words like ‘grabbing,’ ‘cracked.’
Also notice saying ‘had to’ instead of ‘knew he needed to.’ Forget about considered thought in tight situations. People just act and think later when they are desperate. This is one place where we definitely don’t need to know what the hero is thinking.
Also note the use of an expletive (swear word) by Rudolph. You might not want to use expletives in your writing but it’s a fact that people swear a lot when under pressure. Leave swear words out and you risk losing realism.
For the last reason above, short sentences are good in action sequences. We want simple action, and short sentences tend to increase the pace.
Another trick is to use time. If the hero is not only fighting against an evil adversary or obstinate door, but also against the clock, this will dramatically increase tension.
I used this a great deal in Ordo Lupus and the Temple Gate.
Adversity or Obstacles
Elements of adversity of obstacle can also add tension. In the example above the door wouldn’t open easily and he had to wrench it open. Small accidents can also increase tension. He needs a key to unlock the door but he drops it, as people do when tense or in a hurry. Both accidents and obstacles also prolong the tension, which also helps create tension.
Use of Commas
The use of less commas during action sequences can increase tension, but this is a technique not all authors employ. If you try it, you still need to observe good grammar rules.
A Word of Warning about Length of Description
As you probably noticed in my example above, quite often action sequences can make the prose longer. For this reason, you will need to allow a bit more space for describing action, perhaps as much as 50% more space. But on the other hand, if you use short sentences carefully and avoid any description of inner feeling, you can sometimes keep the prose in action scenes as short as elsewhere.
Slowing the Pace
It may sound crazy, but sometimes you will want to slow the pace!
You can’t have climactic scenes throughout the whole book. This would be exhausting to read, and would ignore the whole point of climaxes. But you may want more than one climax. In The Devil’s Own Dice I knew there would be a big battle in the middle of the story. Inevitably this has to be very tense and a climax of some sort. But I didn’t want it to be the final climax. This made things tricky. I got round it by making the lead up to the battle quite leisurely and keeping the tension high afterwards. I also had a strong ‘insight’ scene after the battle, so that we see a previous love affair in detail and how it affected the main character. This kept the pace up, because of the tension of an affair, but also allowed the reader a bit of a contrast to battle. I had to make sure the final climax was even more exciting, but on the whole I think the reader feels they got a bonus, rather than a let down
Using Chapter Breaks and Scene Switching
I put these 2 factors together because they sometimes amount to the same thing.
Because you will want the climax somewhere near the end of the book, each chapter should, on the whole, be more gripping than the last. This drags the reader along and won’t let them put the book down. For this reason, you should normally end each chapter on a cliff-hanger. That is, they should either be just about to learn something, or have just seen some action but not know the outcome. This will make the reader want to turn the next page.
If the book has a large cast and a complex arena of action such as the invasion of Earth in my science fiction book Worlds Like Dust, you might try switching between different areas of action, either at section breaks or chapter breaks, rather than trying to describe it all simultaneously. Allowing yourself to describe one piece of action completely before switching to another increases tension, because the reader is wondering in the back of their mind what has happened to so-and-so in the other scene. Tolkien does this brilliantly in Lord of the Rings. You must handle continuity very carefully when you do this.
So, in conclusion, to vary pace, use:
- Action Words and Expletives
- Short Sentences
- Adversity or Obstacles
- Reduced Number of Commas
- Chapter Breaks and Scene Switching
Join me for the final part of this series 6. Editing in two weeks’ time.
Let me know what you think of my tutorials by commenting below:
The first three places are:
1st Place, with 6 votes: Focke-Achgelis_Fa_223 – A dual rotor helicopter
When Otto Skorzeny was planning his raid to abduct captured Italian dictator Benito Mussolini from the Albert Rifugio hotel on the Gran Sasso in September 1943, his original choice of aircraft was a Fa 223. The Fa 223 would be able to land directly in front of the hotel. However, the chosen aircraft broke down while en route, and Skorzeny instead was forced to use a Fieseler Fi-156.
The Drache could transport cargo loads of over 1,000 kg (2,200 lb) at cruising speeds of 121 km/h (75 mph) and altitudes approaching 2,440 m (8,010 ft)
2nd Place, with 5 votes, Silverbird
The design was a significant one, as it incorporated new rocket technology, and the principle of the lifting body, foreshadowing future development of winged spacecraft such as the X-20 Dyna-Soar of the 1960s and the Space Shuttle of the 1970s. In the end, it was considered too complex and expensive to produce. The design never went beyond mock up test.
The Silbervogel was intended to fly long distances in a series of short hops. The aircraft was to have begun its mission propelled along a 3 km (2 mi) long rail track by a large rocket-powered sled to about 800 km/h (500 mph). Once airborne, it was to fire its own rocket engine and continue to climb to an altitude of 145 km (90 mi), at which point it would be travelling at some 5,000 km/h (3,100 mph). It would then gradually descend into the stratosphere, where the increasing air density would generate lift against the flat underside of the aircraft, eventually causing it to “bounce” and gain altitude again, where this pattern would be repeated. Because of aerodynamic drag, each bounce would be shallower than the preceding one, but it was still calculated that the Silbervogel would be able to cross the Atlantic, deliver a 4,000 kg (8,800 lb) bomb to the continental United States, and then continue its flight to a landing site somewhere in the Empire of Japan–held Pacific, a total journey of 19,000 to 24,000 km (12,000 to 15,000 mi).
In 3rd Place, with 4 Votes, Die Glocke
Die Glocke is described as being a device “made out of a hard, heavy metal” approximately 2.7 metres (9 ft) wide and 3.7 to 4.6 metres (12 to 15 ft) high, having a shape similar to that of a large bell. According to an interview of Witkowski by Cook, this device ostensibly contained two counter-rotating cylinders which would be “filled with a mercury-like substance, violet in color”. This metallic liquid was code-named “Xerum 525” and was “stored in a tall thin thermos flask a meter high encased in lead”. Additional substances said to be employed in the experiments, referred to as Leichtmetall (light metal), “included thorium and beryllium peroxides”. Witkowski describes Die Glocke, when activated, as having an effect zone extending out 150 to 200 meters. Within the zone, crystals would form in animal tissue, blood would gel & separate while plants would decompose into a grease like substance. Witkowski also said that five of the seven original scientists working on the project died in the course of the tests. Based upon certain external indications, Witkowski states that the ruins of a concrete framework—aesthetically dubbed “The Henge”—in the vicinity of the Wenceslas mine (50°37′43″N 16°29′40″E) may have once served as a test rig for an experiment in “anti-gravity propulsion” generated with Die Glocke. However, the derelict structure itself has also been interpreted to resemble the remains of a conventional industrial cooling tower.
Maybe you don’at agree with the result? Discuss!
You will be able to read more about Die Glocke in a subscription publication I am planning for 2016. Join my Newsletter to keep up to date.
I wanted to let you know that I will only be posting every second Monday from now on. I have to focus very hard on my latest novel and the real world tends to intrude as well so I don’t have to much time.
If you really want exclusive inside information on what I am working on, what is coming up, competitions freebies AND THREE FREE THRILLERS, then you need to sign up for the Lazlo Newsletter.
You will always find a page with the link to the Newsletter in the menu at the top of all my blog pages.
Now you can vote! 3 votes each. Vote closes 5pm Monday 29 June. Enjoy!
There were 2 nominations:
अब आप मतदान कर सकते हैं! 3 वोट प्रत्येक। मतदान सोमवार 29 जून 17:00 बंद कर देता है। आनंद लें!
Jetzt können Sie abstimmen! 3 Stimmen je. Vote schließt 05.00 Montag, 29. Juni statt. Viel Spaß!
Maintenant, vous pouvez voter! 3 voix chacun. Clôture du scrutin 17 heures le lundi 29 Juin. Profitez!
Ahora usted puede votar! 3 votos cada uno. Voto cierra 17:00 Lunes 29 de junio. Disfrute!
اب آپ ووٹ دے سکتے ہیں! 3 ووٹ سے ہر ایک. ووٹ کریں پیر، 29 جون 5pm کے بند کر دیتا ہے. کا لطف اٹھائیں!
Another great vote this week; which is the best scifi vehicle of all time?
The choice is HUGE but below are just a few suggestions to get you started. Please nominate your favourites by commenting here or tweet me @Lazlo_F or message me on Facebook. The nomination deadline will be 22 June at 5pm. Then we will vote!
Ein weiterer großer Stimme in dieser Woche; Welches ist das beste SciFi Fahrzeug aller Zeiten?
Die Auswahl ist riesig Gewinn Hier sind nur ein paar Vorschläge, um Ihnen den Einstieg. Bitte benennen Sie Ihre Favoriten von hier zu kommentieren oder tweet ich Lazlo_F gold Nachricht auf mich Facebook. Der Nominierungsfrist wird am 22. Juni 17.00 Uhr sein. Dann werden wir abstimmen!
Un autre grand vote cette semaine; qui est le meilleur véhicule de scifi de tous les temps?
Le choix est énorme, mais ci-dessous sont quelques suggestions pour vous aider à démarrer. S’il vous plaît nommer vos favoris en commentant ici ou tweet moi Lazlo_F ou un message moi sur Facebook. La date limite de mise en candidature sera de 22 Juin à 17 heures. Ensuite, nous allons voter!
एक अन्य महान वोट इस सप्ताह; जो सभी समय का सबसे अच्छा scifi वाहन है।
Landmaster from Damnation Alley (crap film but good vehicle)
The Tom Cruise Audi from Minority Report (this is a view from the front)
I could go on all day but now it’s over to you. Nominate your favourite!