Rhobin always poses interesting questions. This month she wants to know how I develop tension in my writing. Well, that’s a loaded question. LOL I’d claim that I like to put my characters in uncomfortable, and sometimes dangerous, situations, but, if I’m being honest, I can’t take credit for any of it other than telling their stories as they relate them to me. The biggest challenge is silencing the voice that says they’ll never work their way out of whatever’s happening. (They prove me wrong if I just let them. LOL) Tension crops up because the characters make it happen. I have very little to do with it. Sometimes, they write themselves into a corner, and I have to cut a scene. (I’ll share a cut scene from my shapeshifter action adventure lower down.) More often than not, though, I’m amazed at how something comes up, tension is created, and then resolved in a way I could never imagine. It can be a little scary. Okay, it’s often very scary, but it’s also exhilarating.
This particular scene never made it into Snow Spirits and was really hard to cut because it was so atmospheric and haunting, but even my character, who had insisted I tell it, decided it wasn’t going to work, despite the tension. However, I don’t like “throwing away” scenes. Rather than delete, I save them in a different file “just in case”. (Am I the only one who does this? It’s the only way I can cut anything.) Back to the cut scene. The MC and her party are racing across the Tibetan plateau with the People’s Liberation Army hot on their tails. All of them are medically created shifters. While this scene created plenty of tension, it typed me right into a corner. It took a few days, but Xué, the MC, admitted that it wasn’t going anywhere. We moved on.
Honestly, I love this scene. This is just an excuse to share it. LOL Perhaps it’s not the right time or place, but . . . it wants to see the light of day.
A faint cry echoed through the valley. Xué froze mid-step. The line stopped. Her gaze met Bao’s. Above them, a weak sun shone on the blanket of snow. Behind her, the villagers had disappeared into their yurts. Beyond them, a bank of clouds grew taller and more ominous with every second that passed.
The wind carried another faint cry. It sent a shiver down her spine.
He turned to her, a question in his silver eyes.
“Do you think it’s a human cry? Or the wind?”
A haunted expression flitted across his face. “I don’t know.”
Everything in her screamed that he lied. Had the gap taken more lives? Would Mao give up? She shook her head. As long as he thought he could capture them, he would never give up. He’d proven that starving his people meant nothing to him. Why would losing a few squads to capture them be any different? Maybe not even when they reached India would he stop. Would he invade another country to get to them? Hadn’t he invaded Tibet?
“We must keep going,” Aynur said in the silence. “Perhaps the spirits are being kind and protecting us.”
Goosebumps chased along her skin. Would the soldiers be trapped at that gap as hun? Would innocent travelers be victims in their quest for vengeance all because Mao wouldn’t let them escape? Maybe when they reached some place safe, she could find a monk or holy person to protect her and Bao from these vengeful spirits.
A louder scream wailed along the wind. “Sĭ! Sĭ! Sĭ!”
Aynur broke out into a trot. The trot turned into a run. Soon, Xué was racing across the frozen tundra along with the other shifters, screams howling at her heels. Her heart pounded, and she gasped for air. The wolf shifters were pulling away from her. Bao kept pace while Huang and Chang lagged behind her. A sharp pain stabbed her side, but she pushed on. She couldn’t hang on much longer.
A gust of wind roared past her, and then the world went silent as if that last gust had sucked all of life out of the steppes. An eerie stillness settled upon the land. Unease slithered along her skin, and her hair stood on end.
Something was wrong.
Her legs crumpled under her, and she flattened to the ground. The sharp tang of fear stung her nostrils. Cold, more bitter than any she’d ever experienced, swept over her. It seemed to draw all of the heat out of her and penetrated her bones even under her new jacket. Her nose burned. An uncontrollable trembling shook her body.
She pushed up to her knees and raised her head. A heavy weight pressed down upon her, but she pushed against it and stumbled to her feet, swaying under the force. All of the other shifters lay scattered across the ground as if a child had thrown its dolls and left them where they’d landed.
The silence stretched. Still, nothing stirred. A tremor coursed through her.
She bent down and shook his shoulder. He didn’t respond. She caught her breath and spun to the bear shifters.
Still no response. She rushed forward to where Aynur, Zuhre, Nur, Pema, and Akilina lay. One by one, she rolled them over. Their eyes stared up at the sky unseeing.
Panic clawed at her. She backed away, shaking her head. She turned toward the village, her snow leopard itching to shift and run to Bayarmaa and her family. Even though snow curled above the tents, something stopped her. Something was off. The huts weren’t the same. She frowned. How could that be?
Something warm brushed her cheek, and she opened her eyes. The snow burned her other cheek where it rested on the ground.
“Xué, are you okay?”
Bao’s voice broke the vision. He and the other shifters weren’t on the ground. They stood around her, concern etched in their features.
She pushed herself up to a sitting position and nodded, but her mind struggled with what she’d seen—what she was seeing. What was happening?
An urgency filled her. They had to leave. This steppe was cursed.
“We can’t stay here. We have to leave…now.”
Bao grabbed her shoulders. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
Xué shook her head. “No… I…”
She looked around wildly beyond the shifters crowded around her. Far in the distance, smoke from the village they’d stayed in the night before curled into the sky, marring the pristine blue sky.
“Didn’t you hear the howling and the screams? Isn’t that why we were running?”
Was she the only one who’d heard all of it? Had she imagined everything?
“I heard it.” Chang spoke softly into the silence that greeted Xué’s question. “You collapsed when it stopped.”
The tension in her shoulders slid away. Air filled Xué’s lungs once again, and relief spread through her. Perhaps the sprinting and her fear had created the illusion, and her mind had made it all up. Even her mother’s ghost. The race across the snow, the stress of the last week or more, everything combined had taken its toll.
That was it.
“Sometimes, the wind sounds like a human cry on these steppes,” Aynur said. “Right, Zuhre?”
His mate nodded.
Zuhre’s gaze met Xué’s, and she smiled although a shadow lingered in the depths of her eyes. Zuhre no more believed Aynur’s words than Xué did.
“Let’s go,” Aynur said. “We’ll take a slower pace. Is everyone ready?”
Muted “yesses” fill the air. Without saying another word, Aynur turned toward the distant mountains and trotted off. Xué fell in line behind Akilina. Bao jogged up next to her.
“Are you sure you are okay?”
Unable to meet his gaze, she focused straight ahead and nodded.
His voice wrapped around her, coaxing her to meet his concerned gaze.
She shook her head. “There’s no time for this.”
“There’s no time, Bao.” A little bit of the steel and desperation that churned inside of her spilled out into her voice. “I…I will tell you later… tonight. I promise.”
She increased her pace, hoping he would accept her refusal to answer immediately. He dropped behind her, allowing her to go ahead. A sigh escaped her. The next several hours would give her an opportunity to figure out what to say to him. The thought of sharing her vision tied her stomach in knots.
While there’s tension in the scene, it wasn’t going to work. It was taking the story in a different direction than where the story needed to go. Characters surprise me all of the time. Tension isn’t difficult to create . . . for me because I’m not the one doing it.
How about you? How do you create tension?