A friend plays violin for the Cincinnati Symphony. After playing an astounding concert for a group of us at our home, Stacey began talking about music and his favorite composer, Miklos Rozsa. Rozsa, said Stacey, had told him that music must make the listener feel more and more tense, then there should be a release. Music that doesn’t do that is boring.
I started listening for that tension and release in music, and sure enough, Rosa is right. All my favorites have it. I feel a tightening, tightening, and then that wonderful release. The more pronounced it is, the more evocative the music.
Then, as I usually do, I began thinking about how that applies to writing. And yes, in good writing, there is also that tension and release. We often think of it as those mini climaxes building up to the final one at the end. Those obstacles that the protagonist must face and overcome. The struggle and then the release.
The greater the challenge or obstacle to the protagonist, the greater the release when he/she has met and overcome it, the faster the reader turns those pages.
I think of Jennette Marie Powell and her time travel series, Time’s Enemy and Time’s Fugitive. She throws so much at her poor protagonist you can’t see any way he will overcome it all. But when he does, there is a huge release. Sort of like stretching a rubber band until you think it will break, stretching, stretching, holding your breath and cringing because you think it is going break, and then letting go. Smack! Release!
I hope I can put more of this tension and release into my own writing.
Can you think of examples of tension and release in your favorite book?