Thursday, June 02, 2011

It's About Conflict and Tension 2

What I'm reading: Sweet Nothings, by Catherine Anderson

Yesterday, I showed how I attempted to keep the reader interested in my first scene of DANGER IN DEER RIDGE. I'm continuing that today with some analysis of the second scene, where we get to go inside Grinch's head. By having 2 POV characters, you have more opportunities for tension, as the reader begins to see more than either character can. I normally limit myself to only 2 POV characters, but in this book I actually added a third--the villain, which can also increase tension as neither hero or heroine knows what's going on in his head.

In this section, rather than snip and just leave the paragraphs I explained, I decided to leave everything there so you can follow the flow of the scene.

Grinch peeked through the passenger window of his pickup, reassuring himself that Dylan would stay asleep for the few moments it would take to get the gas flowing. The bumpy ride down the steep, pothole-filled driveway would have woken him up for sure. Besides, Chester was with him, and nobody would approach the truck with that mutt standing guard. He gave the window a soft pat, then headed toward the house. We can't have TSTL heroes. This paragraph shows Grinch dealing with his immediate conflict—getting the gas turned on for Elizabeth while his young son is with him. (And in order to make it work, I had to stick in the dog, which became yet another character to keep track of! But it turned out he was a welcome addition.)

It had been obvious that he'd frightened the Parker woman, and not by showing up unannounced. She had that trapped-animal demeanor. What's her story? He wandered around her car. Layers of road dirt. California plates. Tires in decent shape, but if this was her only vehicle, she was going to have some trouble once the snows hit. Sooner if she didn't get the driveway repaired and graded. Glimpse into Grinch's character. He cares about people.

He checked the pickup again, Dylan's red hair clearly visible against the passenger side window. Was he moving? Waking up? Damn, what was taking that woman so long? He needed to get Dylan home. Hell, he could have had the line opened and been gone by now. Microtension again – he's there to do his job, but there's an obstacle; he has to wait for Elizabeth's return.

He eyed the house. The front door opened, and the Parker woman trotted down the porch steps. At last. He strode toward her, trying to replace his impatience with a reassuring smile.

"I'm sorry to keep you waiting," she said. "I verified that Rhonda sent you. Thanks for stopping by."

"Understood, ma'am," he said. "This day and age, it pays to be careful. Although you'll find most folks around here are friendly."

"Will it take long?" she asked.

"Not at all. I'll open the main line to the house, then make sure everything works for you."

"I'll leave you to it." She disappeared into the house like a prairie dog into its den.

He opened the line, then jogged toward her door. She must have been watching, because the door opened when he hit the first wooden porch step.

"You're finished?" she asked. He noticed her round, blue eyes. Eyes that kept darting glances toward the house. "So we'll have hot water and heat?" He notices her uneasy behavior. The reader knows why, but he doesn't yet.

"Show me to the furnace and water heater, and I'll fire them up for you."

"Um…I'm not sure where they are. Basement, I guess."

He forced a smile. "Either that or the garage. I'll find 'em."

"Can I try the stove?"

"Sure. Give it a shot."

She stepped in that direction, then stopped. "Um … it's not going to explode, is it?"

He restrained himself from pushing past her. "Shouldn't. Here, let me." He twisted the knobs, hearing the pop as the ignition system kicked in. Seconds later, blue flames flickered below each burner. To this point, his conflict is simple: hurry to get the job done and get back to his son. Obstacles in his way are minor.

He was about to check the oven when the sound of a dog's frantic barking chilled his blood. Chester. He whirled and raced to the door, flinging it open. The spotted mutt raced circles around Dylan, who was stumbling down the drive. Stakes are raised here

"Dylan!" Grinch leaped off the porch and sprinted across the gravel, dodging potholes. "I told you to stay in the truck." He grabbed the child.

Dylan sniffled. "I'm sorry. But I—" Then he threw up what appeared to be three times the volume of what his little stomach could hold. What had Mrs. Bridger fed him? She had a reputation as a reliable sitter, and Grinch had been grateful she'd agreed to take Dylan at the last minute, but maybe it hadn't been a smart move. Establishes that he's not a terrible parent, but he's doubting the wisdom of his choice.

"It's all right, Dyl. It's all right. You'll be okay," Grinch said, ignoring the stench and the mess. He rubbed the boy's back and held his head.

"I'm sorry, I tried to be good." His tears returned, along with shuddering sobs. "I sicked in the truck too."

"What's going on?"

Grinch turned to see the Parker woman, hands on her hips, a scowl on her face. He sat on the ground, pulling Dylan into his lap. "Sorry. Dylan—I thought he'd be okay for a few minutes—your place was on the way—Rhonda said it was a rush job—I didn't—"

The woman crouched by his side, running her fingers through Dylan's sweat-soaked hair, touching his forehead. "My God, he's burning up. What kind of a person are you, leaving a child alone in the first place, not to mention a sick one." Elizabeth's reaction adds more tension to the scene. As I mentioned yesterday, her reason for leaving her husband was to protect her son. What she is seeing is a neglectful parent, which adds some conflict between her and Grinch.

"Dylan was asleep. I didn't know he was sick. And Chester was with him," Grinch said, the words not out of his mouth before he realized how stupid they sounded.

"Chester?" She whirled her head around, fingers curled into fists.

"Dog," he said.

She scanned the yard where Chester was now performing the obligatory sniffing routine. Apparently satisfied there was no additional threat, her posture relaxed. "You might as well come in and get cleaned up. Should you call your pediatrician?"

"I...we…don't have one. I didn't know Dylan was sick."

She was already marching toward the house. Grinch scooped up Dylan and followed. Damn, the kid was burning up. Some father he was turning out to be. With "was turning out to be" we see hints as to why Grinch hasn't been Father of the Year material, yet the story isn't stopped for an info dump of back story.

Both this post and yesterday's are snipped from Chapter 1 of Danger in Deer Ridge. The entire chapter is available on my website. I hope some of my running commentary was helpful.

I'll be back tomorrow with another Friday Field Trip.


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

You're the POV expert, Terry! Nice example of letting POV drive tension/conflict.

Terry Odell said...

Elizabeth - I think one of the hard parts about writing is that you really can't break things down into neat compartments. Everything is related, and everything has to fit with everything else. I'm teaching a class on dialogue, and once you get beyond the way to punctuate it correctly, it's almost impossible to keep from looking at how it "works with the story" -- which will include so many other factors.

Anonymous said...

I did like this. Your running commentary was helpful :) I feel I have learned something today.