Friday, October 29, 2010

How do your favorite writers maintain tension in books where physical action and danger are delayed from the start of the book?

The book I’m working on now has what I see as a problem and I’m not sure how to fix it. Simply put, the driving tension of the book doesn’t become clear until we’re a few chapters in but I want the book to have a fast, strong start.
Normally, physical action and danger (to the characters and to other people) drive my books from the beginning. In this one, the danger is there but they don’t know about it yet so the main characters are investigating the mysteries facing them at a less than frantic pace. Realistic, but not, I think, really grabbing for the reader.
I’d like to look at how other authors have handled this kind of situation before and I’m looking for suggestions on who you have read that you think has done this kind of thing well.

1 comment:

Gil said...

I recently read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (I wanted to see what all the hullabaloo was about. It's a good book), and I'm bringing it up because another writer used the first chapter on a blog (Nathan Bransford's, I think) to illustrate how the first chapter should set up the entire book for the reader.

The Hunger Games is a YA sf, in case you're not familiar with it, of a post-apocalyptic American that is called Panem, which is divided into twelve districts. The government keeps control by demanding each district provide a girl and a boy between the ages of 12 and 18 for the Hunger Games.
The protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, takes care of her family by hunting illegally outside the boundaries of the district and selling or bringing home what she gets there. She is very protective of her little sister, who has just turned 12. I'm sure you can see what's coming, because her little sister's name gets drawn and Katniss steps forward as a surrogate.

So, while there isn't much danger or action in the first chapter, it does do a good job of setting the tone for the book and letting us know what the stakes are. I don't know if you can apply this to your story or not, but I thought I'd throw it out there. Hope it helps.