Friday, August 5, 2011

Donna Jo Napoli: Sources of Tension and How to Use Them

Donna Jo Napoli is an award-winning author of many books for children, ranging from picture books to young adult novels. 

The tension is startin, even before Donna Jo takes the podium, as this room is jam packed. It's standing room only as people line the every wall in the room.  I’m literally tucked in a corner on my knees as all hang on her every word.

“Your story has structure. Every point in it has a screw. Your job is to tighten it.”

“The job of the writer, the job of any artist is to disturb.”

You can look for sources of tension in: Plot, Character, Setting, Timing (Deadlines and Choice of words/rhythm)

Donna Jo has the sweetest tone to her voice, but as she speaks about tension, she brings some edge as she continues to ask, “How can we make it worse.”

As attendees give examples, the worse they are, the happier she seems to be about it. So great.

If you start with a fever pitch, you’ve made a great burden for yourself as a writer, because how do you build. But you can find ways.

Nighttime tends to make more things more frightening.

You must make the reader trust you. You (as the writer) telling the reader does not mean they'll believe you. Your reader can believe what they can understand.

Once the reader believes you, then you can just tighten those screws.

If it’s scary then make it terrifying.
If funny, make it hilarious.
If sad make it tragic.

Take it to the extreme while maintaining your authority as the truth teller.

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