Getting up a 4:30 in the morning on the weekend for me is akin to jumping into cold water. You don’t much like it at first but you can acclimate. I did that this past weekend in order to attend the SCBWI conference in the D.C. area for the day. Well worth it! Inspirational speakers, excellent presenters and panel discussions one right after another. Here is a sampling of one of the presentations.
Linda Pratt, a literary agent with Sheldon Fogelman, spoke about tension in children’s literature. She informed us that current market conditions prescribe tension. Her recommendations were individualized for picture books and novels.
Trying to implicitly teach is the biggest pitfall an author can make with a picture book. The learning must be disguised as fun. Not having a beginning, middle and end, especially if there is not something at stake, is another pitfall. Her prescription for adding tension was two-fold. One, less text is more. The illustrations and text should NOT be able to stand-alone. Second, master the art of the page-turner. This can highlight the tension.
She also pointed out a few pitfalls in novels concerning tension. Don’t overprotect your characters. Look for opportunities for them to get hurt, either physically or emotionally. Another is not to confuse action with tension. Driving down the road is not tension. She added that the reader must be emotionally invested in the characters to feel tension. Her recommendations for creating more tension are: chart your character arcs and embrace character flaws. On the first point, you want to be sure each of your characters changes over the course of the novel. If he or she doesn’t change, play the “what if” game. Throw out different scenarios and see what comes of it. As far as character flaws go she suggests that you give them flaws you personally don’t like. Make a list of things you like and dislike about your characters.
What I found made a lot of sense was to not overprotect your characters. It makes sense that a little pain would create tension. The idea of giving flaws to your characters seems like it would add conflict to your story too.