Brace yourself: Today I’m doling out writing advice. It’s hard-earned (on my part), though, so hopefully it’ll be helpful to you.
One of my greatest writing challenges is tension. I have a way with penning detailed descriptions, witty dialogue, and sweet (or steamy) kisses, but infusing my stories with high stakes and intense conflict is not my strength. I love the people who populate my books and, inherently, I want them content. The problem is, content does not make for an exciting read. I’m constantly working at finding ways to make my characters suffer. I want–need!–my readers to worry about these people I’ve created because really… why else will they continue turning pages?
So, I’ve devised The Two Minute Tension Test as a way to keep myself and my writing in check. It’s easy and it literally takes two minutes, but it’s made a big difference in my writing, especially the rewrite I’m currently working on.
To administer the Two Minute Tension Test, I highlight approximately three-hundred totally random words (about a page) in my manuscript. Then I read through them carefully, without the context of the scenes and the words that come before and after (as if I’m planning to post the three-hundred word sample as a teaser or for a contest or whatever). When I’m finished reading, I take serious stock of what happened within the highlighted sample.
Then I ask myself the following questions:
- Did I introduce a question (however big or small) about a character or a plot thread?
- Is whatever’s going on in this snippet the absolute WORST that can happen to these characters?
- Did I include a hook, something to pull my reader on to the next three-hundred words?
- Did I give my reader a reason to care?
If the answer to any of those questions is NO, then I know I’ve got work to do. I either fix the problem immediately (because I have very little patience for a known deficiency) or I make a note of it in my outline to address later.
The Two Minute Tension Test is small-scale. It’s looking at the trees instead of the forest, if you will, but it’s a great way to zone in and assess your story in manageable bits. Once you’re proficient at applying it to three-hundred-word chunks, you can apply it to scenes, then chapters, then acts, and so forth.
So, there you have it: The Two Minute Tension Test.
Tell me: What’s your writing weakness? How do you compensate?