Jul 6, 2012

Tension

Hoping he doesn't get shot!
Not sure I've ever seen a cowboy with
this style of hair
About a week ago, I caught the tail end of a Bonanza episode where there was a case of mistaken identity and Little Joe was about to get shot in front of a firing squad.  I have spotted several episodes of shows from this period where most of the tension is created by the background music - no one really thinks Little Joe is going to get shot even though they do pan out to show the men on horses riding as quickly as they can.

Think about the old movies - the woman screaming is blah, the creepy guy around the corner is seen by everyone but her and there just isn't the shock factor.  Sure, technology has changed things...

Then I read reviews on books that people love except they could figure out what was going to happen so the book gets demoted to two stars.  This is also something I have discussed with my CP's, trying to figure out if there is still a market for stories about people - not something that has the stakes of the loss of the world or a civilization.

What should to role of modern tension be in stories?  Do we really feel like, if we aren't shocked at what happens in a book or movie, that we are disappointed?  Seriously - when you go to an action movie, don't you pretty much assume the good guy will win?  Or the guy will get the girl?  Or the people will find a way to rally to defy the odds?

So why are we let down by a story that doesn't shock us?  Just how high do the stakes have to be now?

Have you ever thumbs downed a book over tension?  Is tension the most essential part of a story?  

16 comments :

S.P. Bowers said...

Some books are predictable and have no tension and that bothers me. But in those books there are generally other issues. The characters are cardboard, the conflict easily resolved, etc.

There are a lot of books that I enjoy, even loved, even though I knew what was going to happen. I believe that reading is the journey. And we can enjoy a journey even if we know the destination.

You're right of course. There are a lot of people who believe if they've figured it out it's not worth reading. It makes me sad.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Even if we know what's going to happen, a good book (or movie) can still provide great tension. We also have to be invested in the characters.

L.C. Frost said...

^ going off what Alex said, I think our emotional investment has a lot to do with it. But genre fiction has certain archetypes, certain patterns, and when you read too much of the same type of story obviously the twists are not going to surprise you. At this point I get annoyed that people review a book and knock it because *they* are tired of the genre archetypes, which is no fault of the author's.

Andrew Leon said...

There's a difference between knowing what will happen and being predictable.
For instance, in any TV crime show, you know what's going to happen: the good guys will catch the bad guys.
But being predictable is when you know who the bad guy is 10 minutes into the show every time. Those are no fun to watch.
It's okay for the audience to know where you're going, just not how you're going to get there.

Kelly Hashway said...

I do like lots of tension in a book. I love when every chapter ends on either emotional tension or physical tension. It keeps me turning the pages.

Jenny Morris said...

I do love to figure out what is going to happen. And I LOVE when a book surprises me. But when it's over, what lasts? What keeps you up thinking? It's the characters and the journey they went on. I've just finished my first contemporary and you have to create tension with the people. With what they are feeling and experiencing. And there really isn't a lot of shock in contemps but there can be tons of tension!

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I recently put down the second book by an author whose first book I loved. There was no tension, just the tedium of small issues in a disfunctional family.

Lexa Cain said...

Personally, I'm all for shock factor, cliff-hangers, and twists, but then I'm a Horror writer. However, I know plenty of writers who don't have fast-moving plots and rely on characterization and internal tension. So far, neither of us are getting pubbed, so Lord knows what agents/pubbers/people are looking for! lol

welcome to my world of poetry said...

Whether a book or film U think Tension always play a a part.
Like life there is always a certain amount of tension to keep us on our toes.

Yvonne.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I think Andrew said it best. It's not knowing where we're going, it's know the specific path and steps to get there.

Emily R. King said...

I prefer books with tension because they sweep me away. I read to be entertained and good tension does that.

Miranda Hardy said...

I like the unpredictable books that have the tension throughout. Lately though, I haven't been finding too many of them.

elizabeth seckman said...

I give a story a thumb's down when the writer spoon feeds me. Leave a little something for me to figure out.

Elana Johnson said...

Oooh, interesting point. For me, I am a bit let down if the story is predictable (hello? That's why I don't like romance -- I KNOW THE HERO/HEROINE ARE GOING TO GET TOGETHER), I think mostly because I want to be led down a path of fabulous storytelling. If the clue is so obvious, I don't like that.

But you're right. In movies, I know what's going to happen. I just think the clues aren't as obvious. Maybe? Shoot, I don't know!

Kathleen said...

I'm one of those people who can usually predict what is going to happen, but that doesn't mean there isn't tension. I think tension happens when the characters are invested in what is happening around them. I would never fault a book just because I guess what's going to happen... Although, I give major props when I'm really surprised=)

Also... I tagged you in a new meme=) http://writingreadingandlife.blogspot.com/2012/07/magic-8-ball-meme.html

Lynn Proctor said...

i tend to like the tension, when it is suppose to be there--