Thursday, May 26, 2011

Tension, can you feel it?

Rachel Morgan and Cally Jackson are hosting a 
(I figured I could capitalize the letters to give you the impression that
 James Earl Jones was saying it into an echo mic- did it work?)

Here is a bit from a WIP.
(I'm having trouble with the formatting, please be forgiving) 
Now, without further ado:


“Tom, I’m here at the store with a cart full of food and they keep telling me that our card doesn’t work.” Her voice had a tight, strained sound. She was on the brink of tears, “Is that right? Do you know why our credit card wouldn’t work?”

“Oh,” Tom said sitting on the floor with his back to the door. Standing felt too complicated. “Susan, Anthony called this morning and they’ve frozen our personal accounts as well. I guess I should have told you but I just didn’t know exactly what that meant.”

“So we can’t use our credit cards anymore?”

“He didn’t say that but I think that must be what’s happening.”

Chelsea, their two-year-old daughter, wailed in the background.

“Chelsea, I’m talking to mommy right now. I’ll get you out of there in just a minute.”

“Get her out of where?” Susan asked.

“She locked herself in her room.”

“Oh.....Did you even put money in checking?”

He sighed, “Yeah.”

Chelsea pounded on the door, Tom bouncing with each thud. Her wailing became screechy, making him wince.

“The bank is on the other side of town, Tom.” Tom cupped his hand over his ear so he could hear her quiet pathetic voice over the roaring child. “I have to leave this cart full of food here for, who knows how long,” she said, beginning to softly cry, “and drive to the bank to see if we have money in there?”

“I don’t know what else to tell you,” Tom lied. He knew what he should say. I’m sorry. This is my fault. I should have never dragged you into this. Instead he said, “You’re just going to have to do it.”
Susan sniffled.
"Bye," she said.
Then Tom noticed everything was too quiet.

As a new writer I am ALWAYS looking to improve my craft.
If you have any tips for me, PLEASE tell me.
If you know of a great blog post, book, etc. that could teach me
what part of tension, I'm falling short on.
I want to learn.
(again, feel free to put James Earl Jones' echo voice
 into anything in all caps- it actually increases tension by 70%)


  1. THIS SCENE IS WRITTEN VERY WELL. Sorry, I just had to use the echo voice for something. Ahem. The first thing I thought as soon as I'd finished reading was, "What is Tom sorry for, and what, exactly, did he drag her into?" He seems like a nice person, but sort of detached, and a tad less than adept where money is concerned! I could feel Chelsea's hurt and worry through her dialogue; the dialogue over all was great! I enjoyed reading :)

  2. You don't write like a "new" writer. Good job! I got the feeling that Tom really screwed up somehow - make's me wonder what he'd been up to.
    P.S. I'm a new writer too:)

  3. The tension is awesome here. Nothing is worse than having a full cart of groceries and no money to pay for them. Unless it's a toddler who has locked herself in the bedroom, and is screaming. Or the uncertainty of never getting access to your own finances.

    Very good.

  4. Excellent introduction of characters! Dialogue is good. In the narration, a few passive verb constructions sneaked in - "could hear", "began".

    And I suspect you meant that he didn't know what to tell her - the n't is MIA.

    Wouldn't be surprised if Susan just... didn't come home ;)

  5. I enjoyed this. It was tense, but it also felt very despairing.

  6. I agree with the above comment, you do not write like a new writer. This is great! I think the scenario of being stranded at the check-out with no funds to pay is tense enough - and then you add the mystery as to why there are no funds.
    And kudos for being brave and posting your writing on the interweb.

  7. I totally with you on the James Earl Jones thing!

    I agree with everyone else, this is well written. The situation alone is tense. My heart actually dropped when Susan said her card wouldn't work. I think great writers use situations to their benefit and you did that.

    I only have two ideas:
    1. Use crisp verbs (example: cut, twist, jab, screech) they always ratchet up the tension.
    2. Add more silence in the conversation. Silence is always horribly tense, especially in a situation like this.

    Awesome job being brave! We can't improve if we don't put ourselves out there :)

  8. Big thanks to everyone for commenting and helping me :)

    I know I have a passive voice problem. I blame it on my background in non-fiction and conflict management. ;)

    So I went back through and changed some of my verbs and sentence structure. Hopefully it's getting better.

    I am still open to any other concerns. Any places someone sees one of those boring verbs? TELL ME!

    Angie, or anyone, how do I add more silence? I already used that word twice in a 300 word story. I want add more. I think that it would be there in the scene. But how do I put in in the story?

    This has actually been very helpful, so again, thanks!

  9. You don't need the word silence to show silence:

    He waited, heart in his throat, baby screaming at his back. "Susan? You still there?"

    Like that. Only without the cliche. :)

  10. Money is always a tense subject. I like the above comments, really insightful.

  11. Other than the words "Silence" and "Click", this excerpt works well. I'm not sure what the characters are like, but a little rage from her instead of crying might heighten the tension of their conflict.

    I agree with the don't write like a newbie. All the best with your story, and lovely to meet you through this blogfest.

  12. I think that was written very well and I liked how it was sad and tense at the same time.

    Great job! :)

  13. Money one of the top reasons couples fight, great tension.

  14. Nice tension. I love that it's also a completely normal, everyday-type situation. WELL DONE.

  15. For a new writer this is superb. The tension was palpable and I'm left wanting more!

    Power Of Tension Blogfest

  16. Very nice! I'd sure like to know what Tom did!

  17. Oh man, I can totally feel this character's distress. I want to know more about the circumstances. Nicely done.

  18. Well done. So many unanswered questions. And the ending - I read that as he gets off the phone and realizes there's no screaming child. What's happened there? Sounds like this bad day is getting worse...!

  19. Yikes. I'm scared for the little girl, but it was a surprise because I didn't see the scene going that way. Great dialog. Well done.

  20. I think the tension works so well because of the entirely relateable experiences. Frozen card...screaming child...even if you've never been there yourself, you know someone who has. And then there's the mystery at the end...

  21. I agree previous posts. Very good tension. My only note was on the word "screechy". I kinda got caught up on it. As a mom I know what you are talking about, but maybe add more description so a bigger audience can understand what that new octave does to a person and what it means.

  22. Wow - I really enjoyed that. I was all caught up in the tension between husband and wife, then that last line with everything being too quiet brought me back to the daughter - great job!

  23. Great tension throughout but the last line is especially disturbing. Nice entry.

  24. Eeek, what's happened to the daughter? Why is she quiet now?

    Thanks for entering :-)

  25. Wow. Just wow. Shades of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale here! Very nicely done.

  26. That made me wince, because I've totally had those conversations before, which made the scene so much more tense. Great job.


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