It’s tension that keeps those pages a’turning…

When I read a novel I want something to happen. My best friend, who is an avid reader, doesn’t agree with me. She doesn’t mind reading a whole long book where basically nothing happens. When I had more time, and I was in a book group, I bagged reading a fair number of books where nothing happened. It’s really a matter of taste. Some of these were books that had won awards, were on best seller lists. People like them. But for me as a reader, it drives me crazy when nothing happens. I do love pretty sentences, carefully drawn characters and lyrical or graphic descriptions of place. But it’s also imperative to have a plot impetus to keep turning those pages. Now that I think about it, that goes for non-fiction, as well. Maybe I’m shallow or lazy or something (it’s quite possible both!), but I want to be pulled forward in a book. If I have to work too hard… well, I can just watch t.v. or pick up something else off the stack of books waiting for me to read them. Don’t get me wrong, I like deep ideas, intricate plots, meandering stories, complex characters. But there has to be a certain amount of tension, a certain amount of not knowing, that keeps the plot moving forward and keeps pulling me towards the end. You know how J.K. Rowling has said that she knew all along how the Harry Potter series would end? She started with the end so writing the books was just a matter of filling in everything that happened, with all the details. I definitely think of it as being pulled toward the end  of the book, rather than being pushed from the beginning. If there’s not enough tension, I don’t care how pretty the words and images are that I just read. I lose interest.

What has you keep reading a book?

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “It’s tension that keeps those pages a’turning…

  1. I love authors who can hit that sweet spot between commercial plotting and literary character. I enjoy really quirky protags with a huge internal life going on, but not if they’re drowning in a muck of navel-gazing. It’s so much fun when they’re the frog and life is the blender they’re trying to climb out of. 🙂

  2. Rhonda

    With or without high tension, I need to feel curious about who the MC is, and why, as much as what’s going to happen to him/her. I did this as a kid, too (maybe most kids do). First I needed to sort out how a character was like me in some way, or how the character had some trait or opportunity I wished I had (or even that I was glad I didn’t have), to give me some kind of context, I suppose. And then I could immerse myself into the story. Going in blind with rapid action from the start didn’t appeal to me–not that I think that’s what you’re saying. I don’t. Hmm, so I guess I prefer a character-driven story? But not to the exclusion of tension, of course–I can’t connect if I’m bored to tears. Balance and all that.

    • Character-driven, yes, but not at the expense of a good story line! The characters in Harry Potter are totally three dimensional, but without the tension moving that story forward I wouldn’t give a shit enough to read it.