Category Archives: Kristin Luna

Creating Tension with Narrative Voice

Honestly? I’ve never thought about tension while writing. I’ve thought about conflict a whole lot: overarching conflict, conflict between characters, conflict with the environment, etc. But I’ve never framed it in my mind as “tension.” After some thinking, I decided it wouldn’t be quite right to offer advice about something that I don’t tend to think about while writing. However, I have noticed it while reading. So in lieu of offering advice, I’ve put together a list of memorable stories that created tension in a very unique way that may help you in your own writing. The fun of creating tension doesn’t have to be all your characters’ doing. By honing in on your narrative voice, you can create tension between you and your reader using a variety of techniques.

Tension Through Foreshadowing

In the classic book One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez sets up tension in the first half of his book by dropping the same line over and over: “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía remembered…” Instantly, the reader questions this. Aureliano before a firing squad? How did he get there? Also… Colonel? When does he become a Colonel? With this line, the author continues to keep these questions fresh in the reader’s mind, and the reader continues on with the book in order to get the answers to those questions.

Tension Through Speaking Directly to the Reader

In one of the darkest children’s series out there, Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler) adds a warning to the reader at the beginning of every book. In the very first book, he lays the land:

“If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book. In this book, not only is there no happy ending, there is no happy beginning and very few happy things happen in the middle. This is because not very many happy things happened in the lives of the three Baudelaire youngsters.”

By doing this, Snicket sets expectations and creates tension between himself and the reader. The reader fights the warning, thinking this, a children’s book, couldn’t end so badly. And yet, Snicket promises a unhappy ending. But what could that ending be? How could something so terrible happen to these wonderful children?

Tension Through Story Structure/Switching Timelines

This technique is a favorite among Literary Fiction authors and moviemakers. The author has one character telling the story as they remember it, allowing them to be the narrator. However, the switches from past to present is up to the author. That means right when something happens, the author has the power to pull back to present time, have the narrator reflect for a time, and then go back into the action. This undoubtedly drives some readers nuts, but can we deny it causes tension? Nope! An example of this would be Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, where our narrator, Cal, starts most chapters in the present, and then switches back to telling his grandparents’ and parents’ stories. The reader becomes anxious to see what’s going on in the present, and yet is forcibly taken to the past instead. This, in the best cases, builds tension by way of anticipation.

Tension, R.L. Stine Style

One BAMF.

The master of ending a chapter on a cliffhanger is the incomparable R.L. Stine.

When I was growing up, I was afraid to read out loud in class. I’d stutter, and as anyone who has tripped in front of their crush knows, once you start falling, nothing can save you from making a fool of yourself. In order to combat this, my dad suggested we read aloud to one another each night. We chose Goosebumps, naturally, because who wouldn’t. We found we’d read for longer than either of us anticipated because we just HAD TO KNOW what happened in the next chapter. If that’s not tension, keeping your readers up way past their bedtimes, then I don’t know what is.

Remember that tension doesn’t have to lay on the shoulders of your characters every time. Consider taking some of the burden from them and messing with your readers’ minds yourself!

Preparation to Write in a New Genre

You know when you’re knee deep in a project and then you get that shiny new idea? And you’re like, “But Brain, I don’t write Historical Fiction. You must have me confused with a better brain that likes to research things to death.” And yet, you love the idea so much, you decide, maybe one day, you’ll write that shiny idea into a book or short story, or *gulp* a series.

If that’s a thought you’ve had recently, then you and I are in the same boat, my friend. Grab and oar and let’s figure out what the heck we’re supposed to do now that we’re up Poop Creek with two paddles.

The best answer I’ve found in how to prepare to write in a new genre is extremely simple, and yet will take you a very long time.

Read.

Read read read read read.

Then read some more.

Read some articles. Then read some articles about those articles.

I can hear my inner critic already grumbling. “A little excessive, dear.” OR IS IT?

You’ll find a few different schools of thought on this. Some people try not to read so it doesn’t color how they write their book. Other people don’t think you can even start a book until you’ve read a library full. You and I, my friend, need to find a happy medium.

I decided I wanted to read more in the genre I would be attempting to write which happens to be Historical Fiction. I wanted to read classics in the genre, and also recently published books in the genre. I feel it’s important to read both because then I’d be able to establish a foundation in the genre with the classics, and then see what has been selling and successful in the genre currently.

Next, I took a few weeks to think about my story and what would be the best means to tell it. I decided a dual timeline would be best, but I had also had zero experience writing dual timelines.

Finally, I ordered all the books that appealed to me with those two intersecting points (dual timeline and historical fiction).

I’ve found that analyzing these books has been more difficult than I thought… because I’m loving them so much. I feel transported to another place and time, and fall in love with many of the characters. Which makes it a little difficult to dissect a piece of literature, you know?

In order to focus on the task at hand, I took note of the things I loved. For example:

  1. What do I love about the author’s style? Is the voice unique?
  2. If the book is in first person, what helped make the character so unique?
  3. What details about the setting made me feel like I was there?
  4. How does the author set up a scene to help me feel transported?
  5. How does the author go back and forth between the two (or multiple) timelines? Is it seamless? If so, then how? If it’s not seamless, what could’ve made it better for me?
  6. Do I see a pattern of how the authors move between timelines?
  7. What, if anything, did I not like about how the author approached writing the story? Why? How can I avoid doing the same?

I’m still reading a stack of books of dual timeline historical fiction. I’m still asking myself these questions. I’m a few months in, now, and I expect this will take a few more months to complete this stage of the research.

And then there’s the research for the time period in which my book takes place. But perhaps that’s another post down the line…

Have you written in a different genre than you’re used to? If so, what tricks did you learn that you’d like to share?

 

Evaluating Your Year in Books

Picture by Kristin Luna, without dog’s permission.

One of my favorite things to do at the end of the year is look back on the books I’ve read. Goodreads has a great tool that automatically comes up with your stats, like how many pages you’ve read, the longest book you’ve read, the shortest book you’ve read, etc.

My friend Shannon Fox does her own evaluation for end of the year reading, and you can view it here.

Here’s her template so you can evaluate the books you’ve read this year, notice some of your reading patterns, and help you make some reading goals for next year. Enjoy, and thank you Shannon!

 

2016: Books in Review

 

  • How many books did you read in 2016?
  • How many fiction compared to non-fiction?
  • How many male authors, female authors, transgender authors, and gender nonconforming authors did you read this year?
  • What’s the oldest book you’ve read (when it was first published)?
  • What’s the newest book you’ve read (most recently published)?
  • What’s the longest book you’ve read?
  • What’s the shortest book you’ve read?
  • Shortest book read?
  • Did you read any books that were translated this year?
  • What was the best book you read in 2016?
  • What was the most disappointing book you read in 2016?
  • What was the most beautifully written book you read?
  • What was the most surprising book you read?
  • What was the most thrilling, un-put-downable book?
  • Which book had the greatest impact on you?
  • What book had a scene that had you reeling?
  • What book did you anticipate reading the most this year?
  • Who was the most memorable character you read this year?
  • Did you re-read any books this year?
  • Did you read a book this year that you’re likely to re-read next year?
  • What book did you recommend most this year?
  • Did you find any new favorite authors this year?
  • Which author did you read the most of in 2016?
  • What was your favorite book cover of the books you read?
  • What was your favorite passage or quote you read this year?
  • What book can you not believe you waited so long to read but read in 2016?

 

Kristin’s 2016 Year in Review

Although the urge is strong to write a piece a la David Foster Wallace and title it, “2016: Consider the Dumpster Fire,” I’ll resist.

But also I can’t resist and here’s a picture of a dumpster fire.

It's small, it's compact, it's perfect.
It’s small, it’s compact, it’s perfect.

Oh c’mon, Kristin, it wasn’t so bad. (Pause to picture me straining to find really good things about 2016.) If I’m doing my math right, which is rare, all of the good things were canceled out with two bad things. I’m not saying this to garner any pity. Quite the opposite. I’d be happy if you joined me in watching it all burn in the dumpster fire above. Ah, bonding over warm flames. 2017 is looking better already!

In 2016, I finished editing a book I completely rewrote, hoping the huge improvements could snag an agent. Instead, the manuscript was declined by seven agents. I decided perhaps it’s time to table that book for now and move on to other things. I wrote two short stories, one of which has been declined four times so far.

via GIPHY

You know, I don’t know if you’ve heard, but sometimes this writing thing is hard. And I have never felt that more deeply than this year. And I know what I’m supposed to do. I’m supposed to take a good 15 minutes to feel sorry for myself, then get right back on that horse, nose to the grindstone, ass in seat.

Part of me thinks that’s a fine approach. But the other part of me thinks that’s just more of the same.

If you’ve started on the same crazy choice of careers, you know the one thing there is no shortage of: writing advice. Everyone from your aunt Carol to Stephen King has something to tell you about how to do this thing. The right way, the wrong way. Write, write, write! Write when you have something to say. Write your first three books then throw them away. Don’t let any time go to waste, be deliberate. All of it’s well intentioned. All of it has at least some merit.

But the second part to the advice that they don’t tell you is: now reflect on who you are, and if that advice can be applied to how you are.

I wish I had a greater epiphany this year, but perhaps this is just one of those sleeper-epiphanies that I’ll be thankful for when I’m 80. I learned I have only a few truly great ideas, and I have hundreds of good ideas. And I just want to write the truly great ones.

That means advice I followed before does not apply. Like: write, write, write! Get those million words in! Any writing work counts!

Instead, it means: slow down. Fully develop the story. Allow myself to think on the idea for however long I need to. Don’t write a good book. Only write the great ones. No matter how long that may take.

That’s not everyone’s road. But that’s what 2016 taught me personally. I don’t want to get merely paid for doing what I love. I want to be damn proud of every word in every book. I want it to mean something. I want it to be more than entertainment.

But first, I just gotta get out of this dumpster fire.

See you all in 2017! It might be better! What did this dumpst… I mean 2016 teach you?