Tension

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Still making my way through KUSHIEL’S DART—on page 700, if you can believe it. It’s an involving read for the most part. The characters are complex and we ‘see’ them change and grow due to circumstances and their own behaviour.

No character is all good or all bad, and many times we see them warring with both sides of their personality, or reveling in it, with the odd time where they surprise themselves with a decision. But not for a moment are these surprise actions ‘far fetched’ or out of character; the impulse behind the decision is solid usually revealed at some point.

The other thing about this story, is that it moves. With a 900 pager there are scenes that, in mho, could have been ‘edited’ some way or presented differently so the page count would be lessened. But that’s just me. And, admittedly some of the historical and political details and the many machinations are going right over my head. But I get the gist, and that’s all that's required. Also, some parts of the phrasing are a twee bit awkward, but fall in line perfectly with the tone and voice of the book/times/narrator, so no real quibble there.


It all works because of the really big thing that is put to play so beautifully in this book: Tension.

It’s layered in everywhere and in every guise, with varying degrees – sexual and/or romantic tension, as well as tension within the general interaction between all the characters, primary and secondary. There’s also several intrigues and mysteries on many levels (personal and re larger background/backstory events).

Some writers will introduce a character and by the end of chapter 3, if that long, we know just about every darn thing about that character because the author has used some combination of info dump, internal musing, and dialogue to tell us everything. Why do they do that?

Even though the reader does want to know everything about the character, they don’t. Not really. Sure they want to ‘root’ for the character, but more importantly they want to be intrigue by him or her.

They want to know what will happen *next*, what the character will do *next*, what is the character capable of and why are they able to be/react in such a way. If the reader isn’t interested enough to be asking these questions, or receives the answer to them too soon, they’ll put the book down, savvy?

Don’t sell the cow right off the bat, just offer up steady sips of milk (for the entire duration of the story).

Let the mystery of who the character is unravel by mainly ‘seeing’ them in action, combined with some back story, introspection, and through dialogue.

Another type of tension comes from the complexity of characterization. Super-duper nice characters are boring and unreal. They offer no conflict to the other characters, and none to themselves either, meaning there will be little propulsion (tension) to story and very weak character growth within the book.

Let your character have ‘genuinely’ unlikable characteristics. Someone who is pig-headed and arrogant in something, will also be honorable and steadfast in another light. They’re pretty much the same characteristics just at a different range on the scale, or viewed from a different point of view.

In a lot of romances you’ll see this idea played out as ‘the hot-headed character being a hot lay er, really passionate in bed’, but precept is never really applied to other characteristics. Apply them. Btw, this also means that you don’t give the character a bad habit or trait then by the end of the book they are miraculously cleansed of their ‘sins’. Ever try to shake a bad habit? Exactly.

Sometimes the habit is replaced with another, or the impulse is ‘checked’ before it’s acted on, but it’s usually never completely irradiated. That’s why you could have quit smoking 10 years ago—with nary a craving--and start up again tomorrow just like that. *snap*. That’s why the staunchest of saints can become sinner under the right circumstances with the slightest temptation. Think about that—that internal tension--in terms of the character.

Let the tension within the character stand. Let them acknowledge and rue their weaknesses and faults, or even revel in them for a time. This will lead to a believable growth arc. Let the reader see those traits in play. They become more real that way and not just the lip service of the author. Don’t be afraid to have characters the reader will hate to love. Tension.

I think tension within the plot itself ( rising conflict, and points of mystery) are self-explanatory, so I’ll leave all that alone, plus this post is getting way too long. Also, as you can guess, unless this book absolutely falls apart in the last 200 pages, I’d recommend it. Even for my fellow biblio-doorstopper aversionists. ;-)

Not sure if I’ll do a more specific review, so this may be my final take, great storytelling, complex characters, lots of intrigue, fairly good pacing for a 900 page book. (Let me put it this way, I've read books at 1/3 the page length with plots that developed at 1/3 the rate of this one). And I’ll probably read book two.... (and once again I've managed to completely leave out any sort of a synopsis in my review. ::snort:: But that's what the links are for....)



Or I could dig up the Jennifer Roberson’s SWORD-DANCER books I have buried somewhere in my to-be-read pile.
Except there’s like 6 of them.






Think I'll finish the KUSHIEL trilogy before starting up another series and thereby increasing the chances of my head exploding.
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5 comments:

Amie Stuart said...

by the end of chapter 3, if that long, we know just about every darn thing about that character

IF I ever do this please beat me with my manuscript.

Jaye said...

"...please beat me with my manuscript..."

With pleasure. ;-) j/k.

You never info-dump, Cece. So there goes my opportunity to beat your ass down. lol.

Michelle said...

I love multi-faceted characters and layered plots. :) When I was a kid, I used to try and find the biggest books the library had..and I devoured them. Gone with the Wind, Roots, Shogun--whatever was BIG, I read.

Jaye said...

I used to try and find the biggest books the library had..and I devoured them.

You, my friend, are a sick sick puppy. :-P kidding. I used to do that with Romances. Started reading Harlequins in my early teens and quickly moved on to the big fat (explicit. heh) Historical romances. Congratulations on finishing your revisions, btw. Go you! All fingers crossed for you, hon. :-)

Amie Stuart said...

there goes my opportunity to beat your ass down.

Somehow this just doesn't displease me.

I used to read big books too--devour them. now I'm lucky to finish a couple a year =\

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