A Tip About Tension

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your humble host

Tension drives stories, and we can learn about it from all sorts of media: TV and movies as well as other writers. The other night we were watching The Hunger Games and I noticed a lot of tension in one scene. There was tension throughout the movie, but one scene early on caught my eye.

Katniss is a badass. She starts the movie showing us how tough she is.

Later, during the fighting scenes, when characters in the games have to kill each other, they camera moves around a lot. It’s jerky, for lack of better phrasing.

The jerky camera stuff helped with the actions scenes because you were part of the action, part of the fight, I suppose; but it also made it to where you couldn’t see everything. A glimpse of a girl getting ready to throw a knife, then the sound as the camera rolled away.

But what else really was good, and why I wanted to mention it, was when Katniss was first getting ready to go onto the game field. Before all the fighting.

Jennifer Lawrence stars as 'Katniss Everdeen' in THE HUNGER GAMES.

We viewers saw her:

  • hands shaking,
  • heard her breathing hard (I guess we saw it, too, but they made it really audible in this scene);
  • they did lots of shots of fear on her face.
  • Hesitation,
  • looking around,
  • even flinching when the tube elevator started, to take her up to the playing field.

I’m sure if I watched it again, I’d see more stuff.

It helps to have a good actress, I suppose, but it was all part of a very compelling scene. I mentioned it to my wife and she immediately agreed. She pointed out the shaky hands, which I had noticed but hadn’t really thought about the impact.

Katniss was pretty unflappable til then. It was a good contrast. Really drove home the suspense.

Don’t assume your reader gets the right emotion just because you have it in your mind. You have to put it onto the page and have your characters feel it – or the reader probably won’t.

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your humble host

Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the amazingly great sci fi action thriller “The Navigators.” Click HERE to get your copy of The Navigators – FREE on Kindle Unlimited!


Published by Dan Alatorre AUTHOR

USA Today bestselling author Dan Alatorre has 50+ titles published in more than 120 countries and over a dozen languages.

8 thoughts on “A Tip About Tension

  1. I have to admit I have not seen the movie. I know, the only person in the Western World who hasn’t but…. The director has worked with the actor on what might be going through her mind in this scene. If he is a good director he will then let her have a go at it and see if he needs to ask for more or for less. A good actress ( and Jennifer Lawrence is a very good one) will then portray the tension and we will pick it up. A bad actress will just look like her hands are shaking for no good reason. This is when the “work” shows and the audience does not believe it. I love tension in a movie or book or tv show. You are 100% right that it must be written in so the reader will be gripped too just like the good actor takes the audience into the tension. Nice post. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are very welcome!

      I agree, it’s a combination. The director has the vision for the story, the actor is the paint that he has to use to paint the picture he wants.

      Good paint, good artist equals good painting. If any of the combinations have a flaw, the painting doesn’t result in a quality work

      Liked by 1 person

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