Preparatory Workshop - Frank Dahlman - 2013-10-19

Revision as of 16:59, 20 October 2013 by NewMexicoKid (talk | contribs) (All about Molly (fantasy))

Frank - Tips for Engaging readers and adding tension in writing

  • Information from Writer's Digest, Fiction Factor, and the Now Write book series.
  • Funny story: I was running late because my 2nd grader was playing soccer. I told my daughter not to just follow the ball but go over to the side, the ball kicks over to her, she kicks it into the net, gets her first goal. She runs up to me and jumps up into my arms. ... Left goose poop all over the back of my pants.
  • Teacher and Dept Chair - 9 years as English/Social Studies teacher

Engaging your readers

  • The reality of the world: trying to get people to stick to books is becoming more difficult. People's attention span is very short these days. People are looking at movies, tv, web things. When you write a good book, people are so engaged in it, they lose track of what is happening around them.
  • An engaging story start with you (Todd Hogan).
  • Who will read my book?
  • Adam Giwidiz - How can you make the person want desperately to read every single page of your book?



  • The most important part of tension is characters. You need to create a character that will be loved/cared for by the reader. Somebody that they can empathize with.
  • You need to know them in depth.
  • I do a full page on each character I have in each book.
  • You don't have to do the online character generation that is seven pages per character; but you do need to know their motivation and stay consistent.
  • What makes the characters different?
  • Focus on attributes that make a difference, that stand out.
  • Know your protagonist well.


  • What is my main conflict? A story without conflict is not worth reading.
  • Four major conflicts:
    • character vs. character
    • character vs. nature (like the Perfect Storm, Andrea Gale)
    • character vs. society (not fighting against an army of people; more about characters trying to change the world in which they live--Martin Luthor Jr story)
    • character vs. self (internal conflict)
  • Know your conflict before you begin. In November, having one strong conflict will carry you. Creating a layered story with many conflicts in November is very difficult; we do know, though, that layered conflicts are the best books. But don't overwhelm yourself.


  • See the Now Write books--lots of great writing exercises. I recommend them.
  • Generate ideas, ways at looking at tension and engaging readers that will help you in Nov
  • Groups by genre
  • Three parts - protagonist, antagonist and a side character
    • wants, needs, traits, character flaws
    • conflicts between protagonist and antagonist -- how would you develop this?
    • what are scenes you would use to set up this conflict

All about Molly (fantasy)

The fantasy group's generated novel idea

  • genre: YA fantasy (semi-real world)
  • Molly - protagonist - wants recognition (she is in a dysfunctional family), seeking to prove something; afraid of water/rain; afraid of open spaces
  • Yvonne - antagonist - wants survival, control, revenge; emerges within Molly when Molly is highly stressed; sneaks out of the house; not agoraphobic but is also afraid of water; wants fun; tries to seduce the therapist; acts on Molly's cheap desires
  • Molly's therapist (lives next door) - never meets Molly but only Yvonne
  • Molly's father - abusive
  • Molly's mother
  • Yvonne's boyfriend
  • Molly's grandmother
Plot points
  • Molly is mostly unaware of what Yvonne says and does; Yvonne is very aware of everything Molly says and does.
  • Yvonne is the ghost of Molly's father's twin sister, whom he murdered (drowned) when they were children.
  • Mom takes Molly to the therapist; the opening scene is with Yvonne and the therapist
  • Scene: at home: Yvonne dissipates, exhausted; Molly wakes back up. Molly's mom is in denial about the abuse from Molly's dad.
  • Scene: Molly visits her grandmother. Her father has some specific behavior patterns that Yvonne shares. When Molly is taken over by Yvonne there, Molly's grandmother calls her Yvonne.
  • Scene: Yvonne has hidden in Molly's things the clothes and jewelry she had originally worn (took from grandmother's house). Molly discovers these but thinks that her father planted the clothing.
  • Scene: Molly when stressed spends time in her garden (which is enclosed enough to reassure her).
  • Scene: Molly goes to her mother to share her fears about what her father is doing, showing her the items. Molly's mother bravely goes to Molly's father to confront him. Molly's father (later) then goes to beat up Molly.
  • Scene: Molly runs out of the house; Yvonne takes over but when she is exhausted, it is raining and Molly is panicking. Yvonne's boyfriend finds Molly (whom he likes better than Yvonne) and rescues her, helping her go home.
  • Scene: A well known exorcist is in town. Molly's therapist (who by now knows of Molly and Yvonne) decides to invite the exorcist to come help Molly (as a placedbo effect). Yvonne knows her time is coming to an end.
  • Climactic scene: Yvonne kills Molly's father by spooking him and having replaced his high blood pressure medicine with pills that exacerbate his heart condition.
  • Molly's mother buries the pills Yvonne switched out.
  • When Yvonne kills Molly's dad, she fades away; suddenly, all her memories are available to Molly, who really needs therapy now.

What is Tension?

  • Tension is a reader's feeling of suspense
  • There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it -- Alfred Hitchcock
  • Typically Act 2 of our book is where we have the rising action where we build tension

Tools we can use for ramping up tension and suspense

High stakes

  • physical or emotional danger that can cause our main character incredible pain/death that will drive the character to solve the problem
  • Allow your character to fail to raise the stakes (increases your reader's fear that the character will fail)
  • Example: Hunger Games; a life or death struggle (kids fighting to kill each other).
  • Example: Remains of the Day - potential loss of someone he secretly loves - Anthony Hopkins great performance
  • Has to be something the character has to face; can't be a loophole


  • Easy but important tool to keep readers engaged
  • Sometimes cliches help to bring the reader's expectations in the right direction (make the common trope unique)
    • example: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman; there is the creepy factor but there are human-ghosts interactions that are supportive.
    • example: Stephanie Meyer put a twist on vampires and sunlight that is unique
  • Also useful in romance (weddings, funerals, foreign land)

Apply Pressure

  • How do we apply pressure to the character as we go?
  • Change equals tension
  • Witch's hat diagram: exposition: (slowly) rising action, climax, falling action, resolution
  • See Vonnegut's shape of stories (google it on youtube); the pressure is going up

Make their life painful

  • Antagonist throws things at the protagonist
  • Difficult lose-lose, no-win situations
  • emotional tension is from something outside of the relationship
  • protagonist cares; antagonist is willing to cause the pain
  • Example: Spiderman - save bus full of people, or his girlfriend
  • Create the "inhale" moment

Use time

  • work against the clock or something dire will happen to the protagonist
    • a bomb is going to go off
    • deadlines
    • Ted Dekker's Saint: the MC has to complete an assassination or they will kill his wife


  • Piling on all kinds of problems
  • Make a list of problems to throw at your characters
  • Issues that could cause the protagonist's world to come crashing down
  • Ex: Hunger Games: Katniss isn't sure who to trust; doesn't trust Peeta. Then Peeta tells her he loves her. Is is an act?

Plot twists

  • Plot twists are things your character and reader couldn't see coming (and yet fit your reader's suspension of disbelief). Complications are things you can expect.
  • Need to find problems that are legitimate but seem to come out of nowhere.
  • No plan ever succeeds without a problem.
  • The Most Dangerous Game short story: man is the most dangerous animal--the hunter is brought to a hunt and then turned into prey.


  • Make your reader go faster or slow them down.
  • Pacing is the rhythm of the novel.
  • You can plan pacing and should be aware of it as you write your book.
  • Use scenes to dictate pace.
    • inhale scenes with high tension (can't have these all the time--will wear out your reader)
    • exhale scenes
  • Plot diagram for most novels is sawtooth (otherwise, it isn't realistic and suspension of disbelief goes away).
  • Example: The Hobbit movie becomes unbelievable
  • Example: The fourth Pirate of the Caribbean movie
  • Mary Sue characters are unrealistic because they win all the time.
  • Have to keep the story consistent with the character traits. Copouts are caught by your readers.
  • Give your reader time to breathe--and know your genre. Let it ebb and flow. Thrillers can rachet tension up more but romance novels require more breathers than other genres. Emotional tension is something readers want to experience and savor.


  • Middle of your book: where things tend to slow down (and where we as writers tend to slow down). What does your protagonist see, hear, taste, smell and touch that would startle or frighten him/her.
  • Put together three plot points that ratchet up tension. What kind of breather can you provide?
  • Use your character senses to add three plot twists in the middle of the book.


  • You can encrypt your text before uploading it

General Tips

  • Begin your story as late as possible (close to the inciting incident). Don't put backstory up front.
  • For beginning exposition, ensure you hook the reader; pique their curiosity.
  • Focus on a big dramatic question (will she survive? who are his parents)
  • Do NOT overpopulate your story for NaNoWriMo. Keep it simple for November.
  • Make sure your setting is appropriate and help you create tension.
  • Ensure stakes are high enough. Wihtout high stakes, a person wouldn't go throught he problem.
  • Have a reasonable, believable and satisfying ending. It can't be a dream. Make sure you have an ending that works.
  • Get ahead: know the scene/goal for the day for writing. It drives your wordcount.
  • Write 2000/day.

Religious differences drive a wedge between husband and wife

  • antagonist: work and outside influences causes the wife to move away from the husband
  • teenage son is keeping the husband and wife together; he commits suicide and the family falls apart

Cousins engaged in identity theft

  • Uncle will change his will
  • Cousins murder the Uncle using his cellphone; it is filmed in the bank he is in
  • Uncle's niece is a security specialist in the bank; becomes suspicious
  • Cousins plan to kill the niece with the same mechanism.
  • Trying to figure out how to confront the killers