Monday, July 19, 2010

Tension

Why don't you stay for the night
Or maybe a bite?
I could show you my favorite obsession.
I've been making a man
With blond hair and a tan
And he's good for relieving my
Tension

-- "Sweet Transexual", by Richard O'Brien, from The Rocky Horror Picture Show

I'm working on a new book that looks like it's going to be a novel, and I've been thinking about tension.

At this point I've written four chapters, somewhat more than 8000 words. I keep waiting for my two heroes to participate in the incendiary love scene that will bind them together and ultimately make them willing to risk their lives and their freedom for each other. It hasn't happened yet.

Instead, I seem to be still building the tension, turning up the emotional temperature. Let me share a bit of the scenario. In a dystopic near future, amid the ravages of a deadly sexually transmitted plague reminiscent of AIDS, the authoritarian government has rounded up all men with a genetic marker for homosexuality and sent them to remote "quarantine" camps. Dylan has been an inmate at one of these camps for seven years. Rafe is the sole human guard at the camp, supervising the legions of robot guards. He accepted this lonely and boring job as an alternative to a prison term for a gang murder he didn't commit. Dylan has managed to attract Rafe's attention through some daring sabotage of the camp's security. In the latest scene, he has managed to shut-down the generators and lock the robo-guards out of the building. He sends the security code in a private message to Rafe, asking the guard to meet him in the generator room.

This is where the love scene will take place. Yesterday I wrote for three hours, trying to get it to happen. Rafe enters the dark, silent building. He plays his flashlight over the equipment, looking for the man he knows must be there. He experiences frustration, anger, admiration and lust in alteration. Where IS the handsome, clever bastard?

By the end of the day, I got Dylan to reveal himself. He lights a candle and steps out of seemingly nowhere--naked. And that's the end of the chapter.

I was ready to scream with frustration myself. But my characters seem to want to take it gradually, and I guess I should listen to them. If this is going to be a novel, I don't need to be too concerned about word count. As long as the delays are effective in heightening the emotional intensity, presumably everything will be okay.

They'll get their hands on each other in the next chapter. I've just got to relax. But with all this tension, it's hard!

I realized one more thing, thinking back on yesterday's work. The pace of writing is far slower than the pace of reading (at least for me). Sometimes I feel as though I'm inching forward, one paragraph, no, one sentence at time. So of course I have the sense that the story is sluggish. When I reread what I've written, it moves along well enough. The experience of the author in this regard is quite different from that of the reader.

But darn it, I don't know how much longer I can wait!

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