Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tension in stories and in life

When I was a kid, I had a good feeling when the main characters "were happy ever after."  I used to wonder if that was the desired state, why didn't the story teller just make that happen at the beginning?  The idea makes me think of a little boy I love who sometimes enjoyed being read to but sometimes, he didn't.  In the latter mood, he would reach over and slam the book shut, saying,"The end".  I guess like most things, seeking happiness can be overdone or mis-aimed.  I can just imagine how the sales would go for a book that had a fancy cover, was very inexpensive but had a single page reading "And they all lived happily ever after."

I came across the book "A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life" more or less by accident.  The title intrigued me and I bought the book in audio form and listened to it.  (That book and "The Dog Says How" by Kevin Kling are two good ones for seeing into the life and times of contemporary young men, especially in audio form.)  Million Miles is actually about the author's study of the elements of a good story.  Of course, a main element is plot and a main element of plot is tension, dramatic uncertainty.  Will the girl be asked to the dance by the guy she is hoping for?  Will they find water soon enough to survive?

I suspect that serious writers (for example, those trying to earn a living by writing) study the subject of introducing tension in detail and have more complex vocabulary and ideas about it than I do.  To see what I found, I put "tension in story" in Google and chose this page from AbsoluteWrite.com.  The page lists several concepts for thinking about and introducing tension into a story.

Buddhist meditators often have a difficult time answering what is meditation for?  One way of seeing it as a purposeless but valuable activity is to consider the tension between victory and success. Or, between tension and its absence.  Looking into ourselves, we can see that we want there to be tension and we want to win.  Would anybody be happier if the Raiders had just said to the Packers, "We know you are a very good team and we don't think we can perform well against you so we just forfeit"? Looking into ourselves and facing the whole business in its entirety, we can see that we want tension loss but we don't want it.

Since we really are built that way, we can see how every problem is both a burden and a gift.  Oh, no!  Not another problem!  Oh, good, maybe we can beat it!

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