Tag Archives: Gabriel Garcia Marquez

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!

Magical Realism: Where Fantasy and Literary Fiction Meet

When most people hear magical realism, they immediately think of Gabriel García Márquez and his book One Hundred Years of Solitude. In One Hundred Years of Solitude, Márquez tells the story of the fictional town of Macondo and the generations of families that live there. It includes people coming back from the dead, a plague of insomnia, and thunderstorms of yellow flowers. If not Márquez, many know of contemporary writer Isabel Allende, arguably the most popular current writer of magical realism. But, some well-known books, authors, and movies also fit into the magical realism category – ones you might not expect. Toni Morrison, Salman Rushdie, Sherman Alexie, Haruki Murakami have all written magical realism. Movies like The Green Mile, Chocolat (as well as the book by the same name by Joanne Harris) and Big Fish (also a book by Daniel Wallace) can be grouped in the genre as well as the TV series The Leftovers on HBO. Books like Life of Pi, Slaughterhouse-Five, The Lovely Bones, and 11/22/63 can also fit into the genre of magical realism.

Then what is magical realism exactly? Is it fantasy? Literary fiction? The simple definition of magical realism is when a story is set in the real world, but the people in the world accept that some magical elements exist – when magical elements are a natural part of the world as we know it and are accepted as such. Stories in this genre may include retellings of fables and cultural myths to bring them back into contemporary social relevance, such as the book The Alchemist. Latin American writer Alejo Carpentier coined the phrase “lo real maravilloso” or “the marvelous real,” but Maggie Bowers is often credited as the originator of Latin American Realism, from which all magical realism stems.

When considering the definition, it becomes clear just how broad and inclusive magical realism really is. It’s also a genre that tends to overlap with other genres. Many books in the magical realism genre are also part of other genres, usually literary fiction and fantasy. There aren’t very many set rules as to what makes a book magical realism, but there are a few.

One of the rules or exclusions of magical realism is surrealism, a different genre that has more to do with psychology and the mind. Magical realism deals with the material, tangible world. Another widely accepted rule of magical realism is that the story takes place in the world as we know it, and the characters have the same needs and limitations as we do. This differs from fantasy where the setting is typically a far-away land and magic is wide-spread and known, and tends to be a power that comes from within. Magical realism simply adds a magical element into the story, such as a man with giant wings (“A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” by Gabriel García Márquez) or an epidemic makes an entire city go suddenly blind (Blindness by José Saramago).

Magical realism presents a very interesting opportunity for literary fiction and fantasy authors. Authors can enjoy a blending of both worlds by creating a playful and unorthodox story that sparks readers’ imaginations.

Recommended reading to examine magical realism in different cultures:

  1. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
  2. The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende
  3. Blindness by José Saramago
  4. Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
  5. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
  6. Beloved by Toni Morrison
  7. Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer