Writing A Tension Filled Standoff

coverUsing my unreleased manuscript An Angel On Her Shoulder, I am showing you my techniques for reworking a story into a more readable, more enjoyable piece. It’s 45+ lessons in about 45 days. (To start at Chapter 1, click HERE.)

To view it best, bring up the two versions in different windows and view them side by side to see what was changed.

Then give me your thoughts in the comment section.

A Standoff

Okay, time for a showdown. Who does what, and how do you portray it?

 


Chapter 24, “FINAL”

I immediately regretted my decision.

I pulled up to the beer house, but the weather guy had been right. No rain. Barely even any wind. That drew the bar patrons out in force, and the street side parking was all taken. The side lot was full, too. I knew there would be plenty of open spaces in back, so I pulled around and parked.

Big mistake.

That part of highway 54 was all new construction, so the bar was surrounded by a restaurant and some offices, none of which had been there two years ago. The rear lot had a few overhead lights, and an open view across an undeveloped patch of ground that would be a bank of drycleaner. Beyond that stood a Hilton that was fairly busy, but overall the back lot was a dark middle ground.

I got out to stretch my legs while I waited for Tyree.

Sometimes, a thing will just look out of place. The self defense lectures taught by off duty cops will tell you to pay attention to those things. Be aware of your surroundings. Things like that.

But I wasn’t a cop. I wasn’t a tough guy. I was just a regular guy who was already out of his comfort zone by being in a dark parking lot late at night.

But I paid attention when we took those security awareness training classes at work. Enough light reached me from the distant street pole to barely make out a couple of guys in the shadows standing next to a blue Mustang. It was a warm night, but one guy was in a long sleeve flannel shirt and a stocking cap. The other wore jeans and a white muscle T-shirt that showed off his thick arms. There may have been somebody in the back seat. They had the hood up on the car, and they kept walking back and forth to look at the motor. In the dark.

Back and forth, from the driver’s seat to the engine.

The guys in the Mustang looked at me.

So I looked back at them.

This ain’t South Central Los Angeles, it’s Land O Lakes, Florida, for Pete’s sake. Five hours ago those guys were probably hanging out at the food court in the mall. But then again, dangerous things do happen, usually when people should have known better. I have a wife and a little kid, I reminded myself, so I shouldn’t do something stupid like get shot by a couple of paranoid marijuana dealers in a dark parking lot behind a bar. Not when I can easily avoid it. I should have moved, but I had a meeting scheduled there.

A car rolled up to the Mustang and turned off its lights. If they were selling pot or something, they wouldn’t think kindly of me observing their drug deal going down.

They kept staring at me. If they were trying to intimidate me, it was working.

I could have left and just called Tyree and found another place to meet. Why didn’t I? As I pretended to be busy texting on my phone, I could make out a muted conversation coming from the Mustang guys.

With a blast, the Mustang’s engine roared to life. I jumped. This pleased the muscle t-shirt guy, who laughed extra loud in my direction. He wanted me to know he knew I was there. They loudly revved the engine a few times, then cut it off. A signal? My stomach tensed.

The two guys walked back and forth from the driver’s door to the open hood of the car again. What part of the engine could they be checking in the dark?

After a few minutes, the second car drove off the way it came, crawling along until it was a few hundred feet away before turning its headlights on.

That had to be a drug deal move, so I couldn’t make out the license plate.

I shouldn’t have watched the second car so long. When I glanced back at the Mustang, one of the guys was walking towards me. Not muscle T, but somebody else. I peered over my shoulder to see if maybe there was somebody behind be that he could be walking toward. There was no one else in sight.

“What are you doing back here?”

My stomach leaped. I’d been leaning on my car with my arms folded, and I still had my cell phone in my hand. That would be helpful if I needed to call 911 when this guy decided to tear my arms off. He was big enough, and he was confronting me in a dark, empty parking lot at night. After a drug deal. Behind a freaking bar. How stupid am I? I quickly punched a 9 and a 1 and another 1, and held the phone in the crook of my arm, ready to press “send.”

I took a short breath and tried to steady myself. “I’m waiting for someone.” I was impressed with how calm I actually sounded. Inside, my stomach tightened up.

“Who?” He barked, still coming toward me. My thumb hovered above to the button on my phone that would call the cops.

“That’s none of your business.” I said it slowly, staring right at him, eye to eye, doing my best to not let on that my heart was pounding a hundred miles an hour.

If there was going to be a confrontation, it would be now. I had already screwed up by not leaving, but if there was a chance to get him to back down, this was the way. Try to show no fear, even if you are scared. Looking him in the eye would signal that I didn’t intend to run, and that I might fight back.

I kept my eyes on him, not breathing. My thumb was ready to press the green send button.

He stopped and looked me up and down, sneering

“I manage that bar right there.” He pointed at the bar’s open back door. “So I have a right to know what’s going on in my parking lot.” He took a step toward me.

“Then go manage your bar.” I stopped leaning on the car and stood upright, hoping a little bit of motion in his direction would stop him. It did.

A bar manager selling drugs part time. Terrific.

I was silently thankful my act was working, but inside my pulse was racing.

He narrowed his eyes. “I think you should leave.”

I wasn’t reacting the way he expected. “I told you, I’m meeting somebody. I’m not going anywhere.”

He didn’t like that. It seemed to confuse him. I wondered if it would work and he’d leave, or if it would just piss him off.

“This is my bar!” He had been drinking. “I need to know what’s going on in my parking lot! What are you doing here?

He was getting louder and angrier. Adrenaline pulsed through my mouth. Some of the guys got out of the Mustang and glared at me, ready to join in like a pack of dogs. I was seriously outnumbered. Intimidation was becoming something else. Things were getting out of control.

I had no other options. I had to ride out my tough guy ploy. “Does your boss know you drink on the job?”

He hesitated, but I thought I could see his hands curling up into fists.

“Does your boss know you’re drunk right now, out in the parking lot instead of managing his business?”

It was a desperate move. I figured this guy might have something to lose—a good job, a house—so I tried to remind him of that. He manages a nice bar and probably makes decent money. A fight might cost him that.

In that split moment where he hesitated, I no longer thought he’d hit me. He’d have done it already.

I glanced at his friends in the Mustang. They might change his mind.

I swallowed hard. Maybe I miscalculated.

It didn’t matter. I was almost panting, I’d been holding my breath so long. Fear gripped my stomach and adrenaline pounded through my veins. I had to stand my ground now, maybe give a little verbal push back while I figured out how to get them to go away. A way to show them it was better to walk away. I had no choice.

It was a bad calculation. Muscle T and his guys headed my way. The drunk bar manager was going to defend his territory and they were going to help.

Do I press send?

He gave me one last chance as the Mustang boys closed in. “How about I call the cops right now, and you can explain what you’re doing to them?”

That was my opening. “Call the cops.” I said. “I’m not doing anything illegal back here.”

It was like the arguments I had with my older brother when I was a kid. By getting them to talk, I could lure them into an argument and away from a fight. More thinking, less fist throwing.

Usually.

The Mustang guys didn’t see it that way. They weren’t talking at all, and didn’t seem like they were going to. Halfway towards me now, they moving with threatening determination. I glanced at my phone, tucked in my arm, my thumb on the send button. I didn’t know if I should press it or not. The police would never have arrived before Muscle T beat me to a bloody pulp.

This isn’t what I came here for. The bar manager was ranting. Maybe he was wavering about fighting, but the Mustang guys weren’t.

Another guy appeared from the other direction, shoulders squared and hands at his side like a boxer striding to the center of the ring to start the first round.

They were going to surround me like a pack of dogs, and as soon as one attacked, they all would. I had no chance.

The breath went out of me. The police would never get here in time to save me.

The boxer’s appearance surprised the Mustang guys. They slowed down for a minute. The dynamic was changing so they needed to reassess things.

The stranger came up behind the manager and then made his presence known.

The stranger didn’t do anything. He didn’t have to. When I turned my head to look past the manager’s shoulder, the shadow from the parking lot lights let the manager know someone else was behind him. When he turned to see who it was, it wasn’t who he expected.

This had to be Tyree. He wasn’t as big as I expected, maybe even an inch shorter than me, but he was big enough. And his attitude said he didn’t mess around.

He looked at me. “You must be Doug.” Then he growled at the manager. “Who are you?”

“That’s my bar right there . . .”

I glanced at the Mustang guys. They hadn’t moved an inch since spotting the newcomer.

“I’m here to meet this man.” The stranger’s voice was calm but firm, loud enough to be heard by everyone present, but not shouting. “And our meeting doesn’t include you.”

The stranger’s height and stature were deceptive because his voice and attitude created all the authority one man needed. It made him seem bigger than he was.

The manager started again. “What are you guys doing back here?” He seemed slightly less angry now. More confused.

“It has nothing to do with you.” The stranger leaned slightly in the manager’s direction as he spoke. Then he turned to me, almost turning his back to the manager, but not quite. In movies, such moves are dramatic. In real life, they are not. They are subtle, but critical. This was dismissing to the manager.

I swallowed hard and eyed the man, trying to maintain an even tone. “I don’t think we should have our meeting here. Too noisy.”

He turned back to the manager. “I think we’ll have our meeting anywhere we please.”

The stranger’s arms stayed at his sides, in a white shirt starched to a stiffness that cardboard would be jealous of, and long sleeves that looked like they never got rolled up no matter how hot it got.

“I’m calling the cops,” the manager said.

The stranger didn’t flinch. “You do that.”

The manager, still drunk, glanced back and forth between me and the stranger. The Mustang guys held their ground. The stranger held his.

I held my cell phone.

“I’m calling the cops,” the manager said again. This time it sounded less like a threat and more like “I’m telling mom.” He backed up a step, then turned and walked back to his bar.

I took a well deserved breath.

The stranger motioned his head toward the Mustang. “What’s the story over there?”

“I’m not sure,” I said.

He turned back to me and smiled. “Then let’s go before they figure things out.” He stuck out his hand. “I’m John Tyler Reed. Folks call me Tyree.”

The fear drained out of me. I shook his hand. “I’m Doug. Nice to meet you.”

He was older than me. Stockier, too, in a way that said back in the day he worked out a lot, either as a military guy or a law man. He spoke with a Texas style accent, but not a thick one, and his manner was an even split of confidence and fact. What he said, you believed.

He was the real deal. He was John Freaking Wayne. The Marines. The Cavalry.

And he saved my ass.

The drunk bar manager watched us from the back door, probably trying to decide what he wanted to do about whatever he thought we were up to. The idiot must have thought we were plotting to rob him or something.

“You handled that guy pretty well.” Tyree sat rigid in the passenger seat of my car, like he maintained good posture all the time.

“Did I? He didn’t leave.”

“Yeah, but you didn’t give him any information and you didn’t back down. That’s good enough in a dark parking lot.”

Information? That was an odd comment. But I liked that he thought I didn’t back down from a possible fight. Regular guys don’t often get a chance to hear that. And that’s nice, because we aren’t sure we’re any good at fighting. Because we aren’t.

I shook my head, waving at the bar. “I never thought about this being anything but a safe meeting spot until tonight. That manager’s probably calling the police right now, thinking we’re doing a drug deal.”

The guys with the Mustang revved its engine again.

Tyree glared at them. “Well, they might be, but either way we need a place to talk and this isn’t it now. My car’s out front.”

More revving.

“How about I drive you over to it and we can go someplace else?”

“Sounds good.” Tyree walked to the passenger side of my car.

As I circled around to the front of the bar and let Tyree out, the drunk bar manager noticed us and pulled out his cell phone to take pictures of our cars and license plates. I bristled, but realized if the camera was as steady as he was, anything in the pictures would be unrecognizable.

There was a 24 hour donut place about five minutes away. Tyree followed me as I headed to it. Our original meeting place had been picked because it was easy to find, not because it was close to anything else.

I felt like I should have been jittery from the adrenaline leaving my system. After all, I had nearly gotten into a big fight with a bunch of guys in a dark parking lot, and I surely would have lost. I expected my hands to be shaking, but they weren’t. Instead, I kept focusing on the uneasiness I felt about telling my bizarre story to a stranger.

But I sensed trustworthiness in Tyree. His reassurance, you handled that guy pretty well, it had a calming effect. Like most people, I thought I was a good judge of character, so for some reason I thought I should trust this stranger. But this particular problem was not one to be wrong about. Not now.

Still, he had helped me diffuse a bad situation without even knowing for sure that he had the right guy. That was worth something.

When we arrived, I went in first and purchased two cokes. Tyree sat down at a table farthest from the cashier. The place was empty, but the TV in the corner would help drown out our conversation from any nosy employees. More updates about the storm getting worse.

I picked up the sodas and walked over to the table. It was time to spill my guts.

“So, John, where should I start?”


 

Original Chapter 24, An Angel On Her Shoulder

 

As I drove over to meet Tyree, I kept having second thoughts. I guess I needed to trust somebody with my crazy theories, but half of me thought, man, what the hell am I doing?

I guess I had to try. We were getting in too far over our heads not to.

I pulled up to the beer house. The weather guy was right; no rain. Barely even any wind. That drew the bar patrons out in force. The street parking was all taken, and the side lot was full. I knew there would be plenty of open spaces in back, so I drove around and parked.

But I immediately regretted my decision.

This is all new construction: a restaurant, a bar, some offices. None of it had been here two years ago. The rear lot had overhead lights, and it was an open view over to a Hilton Hotel that was fairly busy, but overall it was still poorly lit. In between the bar and the hotel was a large grassy area that one day would hold shops or a bank. Meanwhile, it was just a dark middle ground. I got out to stretch my legs while I waited for Tyree.

Sometimes, a thing will just look out of place. The self defense lectures taught by off duty cops will tell you to pay attention to those things. Keep your keys in your hand while you walk to your car at night, especially after doing your Christmas shopping. Be aware of your surroundings. Things like that.

But I’m no cop. I’m no tough guy. I’m just a regular guy with a wife and a kid and bills and a job. I’m already out of my comfort zone just being in a dark parking lot this late at night. But I paid attention when we took those security awareness training classes at work.

So I happened to notice a couple of guys standing around a blue Mustang parked in a dark spot behind the bar. It was a warm night, and it had stopped raining for a change, but one guy was in a long sleeve flannel shirt and a stocking cap; the other wore jeans and a white muscle T shirt to show off his arms. There may have been somebody in the back seat. They had the hood up on the car, and they kept walking back and forth to look at the motor. In the dark.

Who does that?

Back and forth, from the driver’s seat to the engine.

The guys in the Mustang looked at me.

So I looked back at them.

This ain’t South Central Los Angeles; it’s Land O Lakes, Florida, for Pete’s sake. Five hours ago those guys were probably hanging out at the food court in the mall. It’s not exactly scary out here. But dangerous things do happen, usually when people should have known better. I have a wife and a little kid, I reminded myself, so I can’t do something stupid like get shot by a couple of paranoid marijuana dealers in a dark parking lot behind a bar. Not when I can easily avoid it. Hell, it sounded stupid just saying it. I should move. But I have a meeting scheduled here.

A car rolled up to the Mustang and turned off its lights. This, I reasoned, I shouldn’t let them see me watch. If they really are selling pot or something like that, they wouldn’t think kindly of me observing their drug deal going down.

They kept looking over at me. If they were trying to intimidate me, it was working.

I could have left and just called Tyree and found another place to meet. Why didn’t I? As I pretended to be busy texting on my phone, I could make out a muted conversation coming from the Mustang guys.

Suddenly, with a blast, the Mustang’s engine roared to life. I jumped. This pleased the muscle t-shirt guy, who laughed extra loud in my direction. He wanted me to know he knew I was there. They loudly revved the engine a few times, then cut it off. A signal? I started getting nervous.

The two guys again walked back and forth from the driver’s door to the open hood. What’s that all, about? What part of the engine are they checking in the dark? Finally, after a few minutes, the second car drove off, back the way it came. It crawled along slowly until it was a few hundred feet away from the Mustang, then its headlights came on. That’s gotta be a drug deal move, so I can’t make out the license plate.

I shouldn’t have watched the second car so long. When I looked back at the Mustang again, one of them was walking towards me. Not muscle T, but somebody else. I looked over my shoulder to see if maybe there was somebody behind be that he could be walking to. There was no one else in sight.

“What are you doing back here?” he demanded.

I was leaning back on my car with my arms folded, and I still had my cell phone in my hand. That would be helpful if I needed to call 911 when this guy decided to tear my arms off. He was big enough, and he was confronting me in a dark, empty parking lot at night. After a drug deal. Behind a freaking bar. How stupid am I? I quickly punched a 9 and a 1 and another 1, and held the phone in the crook of my arm, ready to press “send”.

“I’m waiting for someone,” I said. I was impressed with how calm I actually sounded. Inside, I was starting to feel my stomach tighten up.

“Who?” He barked, still coming toward me. My thumb hovered above to the button on my phone that would call the cops.

“That’s none of your business.” I said slowly. I stared right at him, eye to eye. What’s with this guy? If there was going to be a confrontation, I thought, it would be now. I had already screwed up by not leaving. But if there was a chance to get him to back down, this was the way. Try to show no fear. Even if you are scared. Looking him in the eye would signal that you don’t intend to run, and that you might fight back.

I stared right at him, not breathing. My thumb was ready to press the green send button.

He stopped, and visually sized me up.

Why won’t he leave?

“I manage that bar right there,” he said angrily, pointing at the bar’s open back door. “So I have a right to know what’s going on in my parking lot.” He took a step toward me.

“Then go manage your bar,” I said. I stopped leaning on the car and stood upright. I was hoping that little bit of motion in his direction would stop him, and it did.

A bar manager selling drugs part time. Terrific.

I could feel my heart pounding in my chest.

“I think you should leave,” he said flatly. I wondered what he was going to do. I’m not reacting the way he expected.

“I told you; I’m meeting somebody. I’m not going anywhere.”

He didn’t like that. I’m confusing him.

Will that work? Or will it just piss him off?

“This is my bar!” he shouted. He had been drinking. “I need to know what’s going on in my parking lot! What are you doing here?”

He was getting louder, and angrier. I could taste adrenaline starting to pulse through my mouth. Some of the guys got out of the Mustang and glared at me, ready to join in like a pack of dogs. I was seriously outnumbered. Intimidation was becoming something else.

This is getting out of control.

“Does your boss know you drink on the job?” I spat out. That surprised him a little. He hesitated, but I thought I could see his hands curling up into fists.

“Does your boss know you’re drunk right now, out in the parking lot instead of managing his business?”

It was a desperate move. I figured this guy has something to lose, so I tried to remind him of that. He manages a nice bar and probably makes decent money. A fight might cost him that.

So, screw him, I thought. He isn’t going to hit me.

His friends in the Mustang might, though. Maybe I miscalculated.

I’ll stand my ground. Maybe push back a little. No choice now.

It was a bad calculation. Muscle T and his guys were already headed my way. The drunk bar manager was going to defend his territory and they were going to help.

Do I press send?

He gave me one last chance as the Mustang boys closed in. “How about I call the cops right now, and you can explain what you’re doing to them?”

“Call the cops,” I said. “I’m not doing anything illegal back here.”

It was like the arguments I had with my older brother when I was a kid. By getting them to talk, I could lure them into an argument and away from a fight. More thinking, less fist throwing.

Usually.

The Mustang guys didn’t see it that way. They were halfway towards me now, moving with determination. I didn’t know if I should hit 911 or not. This isn’t what I came here for. The bar manager was ranting. Maybe he was wavering about fighting, but the Mustang guys weren’t.

I just hadn’t figured that out yet.

 

Then I saw another guy coming from the other direction.

Shit.

He walked with a purpose, right towards me. But his appearance surprised the Mustang guys. They slowed down for a minute. The dynamic was changing so they needed to reassess things.

The stranger came up behind the manager and then made his presence known.

The stranger didn’t do anything. He didn’t have to. When I turned my head to look past the manager’s shoulder, the shadow from the parking lot lights let the manager know someone else was behind him. When he turned to see who it was, it wasn’t who he expected.

This had to be Tyree. He wasn’t as big as I expected. But he was big enough.

“You must be Dan,” He said sternly, looking at me. Then he growled at the manager. “Who are you?”

“That’s my bar right there,” he started. I looked around. The Mustang guys hadn’t moved.

The stranger cut him off. “I’m here to meet this man,” he said, nodding at me. “And our meeting doesn’t include you.”

“What are you guys doing back here?” the manager started again. He was slightly less angry now. More confused.

“It has nothing to do with you,” the stranger said. Then he turned to me, almost turning his back to the manager. But not quite. In movies, such moves are dramatic. In real life, they are not. They are subtle, but critical. This was dismissing to the manager.

“I don’t think we should have our meeting here,” I said. “Too noisy.”

He turned to the manager, taunting him. “I think we’ll have our meeting anywhere we please.”

“I’m calling the cops,” the manager said.

“You do that,” the stranger replied.

There was a long moment. The manager, still drunk, considered his options. The Mustang guys held their ground. The stranger held his.

I held my cell phone.

“I’m calling the cops,” the manager said again. This time it sounded less like a threat and more like “I’m telling mom.” He backed up a step, then turned and walked back to his bar.

I took a well deserved breath.

The stranger motioned his head toward the Mustang. “What’s the story over there?”

“I’m not sure,” I said.

He turned back to me and smiled. “Then let’s go before they figure things out.”

He stuck out his hand. “I’m John Tyler Reed. Folks call me Tyree.”

I shook his hand. “I’m Dan. Nice to meet you.”

The drunk bar manager looked out the back door again, trying to decide what he wanted to do about whatever he thought I was up to. Idiot. He must have been convinced we were plotting to rob him or something.

“You handled that guy pretty well,” Tyree offered.

“Did I? He didn’t leave.”

“Yeah, but you didn’t give him any information and you didn’t back down. That’s good enough in a dark parking lot.”

Information? I wondered. That was an odd comment. But I liked that he thought I didn’t back down from a possible fight. Regular guys don’t often get a chance to hear that. And that’s nice, because we aren’t sure we’re any good at fighting. Because we aren’t.

“I never thought about this being anything but a safe meeting spot until tonight.” I said. The guys with the Mustang revved its engine again. “That manager’s probably calling the police right now, thinking we’re doing a drug deal.”

Tyree looked over at the Mustang. “Well, they might be, but either way we need a place to talk and this isn’t it now. My car’s out front.”

More revving.

“How about I drive you over to it and we can go someplace else?”

“Sounds good,” Tyree said, walking around to the passenger side of my car.

As I drove around to the front of the bar and let Tyree out, the drunk bar manager noticed him and quickly pulled out his cell phone to take pictures of our cars and license plates. For what? Now he was just pissing me off, but if the camera was as steady as he was, anything in the pictures would be unrecognizable.

There was a 24 hour donut place about five minutes away. Tyree followed me to it. Our original meeting place had been picked because it was easy to find, not because it was close to anything else.

Driving to the donut shop, I felt like I should have been jittery from the adrenaline leaving my system. After all, I had nearly gotten into a big fight with a bunch of guys in a dark parking lot, and I surely would have lost. I expected my hands to be shaking, but they weren’t. Instead, I kept focusing on the uneasiness I felt about telling my bizarre story to a stranger. But I sensed trustworthiness in Tyree. His reassurance, you handled that guy pretty well, had a calming effect. Like most people, I thought I was a good judge of character, so for some reason I thought I should trust this stranger. But this particular problem was not one to be wrong about. Not now.

Still, he had helped me diffuse a bad situation without even knowing for sure that he had the right guy. That was worth something.

When we arrived, I went in first and purchased two cokes. Tyree sat down at a table farthest from the cashier. The place was empty, and there was a TV on that would help drown out our conversation from any nosy employees. More updates about the storm getting worse.

I walked over to the table. It was time to spill my guts.

“So, John, where should I start?”


ANALYSIS

I may go back and add in some additional emotions for Doug to show. He does a good job of being scared while trying not to outwardly act scared, so he is limiting himself from doing too much – which can limit me as a writer.

Might have to have more inner thoughts from him to fully round this out, but I see places to add emotional reactions. Every time one of the “bad guys” does something directed at Doug, he should react, because that’s what makes the action intimidating.

  • There may have been somebody in the back seat. They had the hood up on the car, and they kept walking back and forth to look at the motor. In the dark… Back and forth, from the driver’s seat to the engine… The guys in the Mustang looked at me. – The hairs should stand up on the back of Doug’s neck. We need a physical demonstration of his uneasiness.
  • A car rolled up to the Mustang and turned off its lights. If they were selling pot or something, they wouldn’t think kindly of me observing their drug deal going down. – Here, Doug should feel his uneasiness rising. Holding his breath, or tension gripping his shoulders, maybe biting his nails. Then we know he’s bothered by all this – and so are we as readers.
  • When Doug looks back to the Mustang and the guy is walking toward him, Doug should react. Flinch, fear grip his stomach, a wave of fear spreading through him, that sort of thing.

See? Letting it rest after I scheduled it to post allowed me to see even more places I can “paint in” a little more tension! (More on that in a second.)

Often, the “confrontation” characters have is in a story more in words, less in actions.

Having fists fly is good entertainment, but having the element of tension first, where everybody is getting nervous and wondering what’s going to happen, that’s important, too.

Here, Tyree saved Doug, so there wasn’t a fight – but was there any doubt in anyone’s mind that Doug would lose? That tells you something about him.

And yet, he did his best, scared as he was, to stand his ground. That tells you something about him, too.

I’ll leave you to conclude for your self as to what it tells you.

When I have to do an standoff scene, I like to think about stuff I’ve seen in movies that I liked – to see how it can be done – but real life is usually better for actual emotion mining. Everyone has been challenged in school by a bully, or gotten scared in a parking lot. Use that. Draw on that feeling you had when it happened. You remember.

JP It Up – If You Can

Then, think about the scene in the movie  Jurassic Park where the car breaks down in front of the Tyrannosaurus Rex exhibit, and it’s raining and dark and the kids are in the car alone.

jp-2

That is one of my favorite movie scenes of all time. Why? Not because the T Rex eats the children. (He does not.)

Because for a very, very, verrrrry long moment, we worry that he will eat them. We think he might. He looks, he sniffs, he growls – and during all that, we are glued to our seats. We dread what might happen, and we can’t look away.

In this case, this scene in Angel is pretty much exactly what happened to me in real life. (With no T-Rex.)

But

Emulate that example in JP. WHY is the scene scary? The monster, yes, but the reactions to the monster. And the vulnerability of the characters involved. We don’t worry about Sam Neil and Jeff Goldblum getting eaten. But we worry like crazy that the children will.

Kids are more vulnerable than scientists. In fact, the scientists aren’t even scared.

But look at the elements at play:

  • The monster has to be menacing,
  • the victims have to act scared as hell, and
  • the scene has to be filled with tension for as loooong as you can drag it out.

T Rex doesn’t come out and chomp them up. He walks around, he roars, he sniffs the car, he gets a light shined in his eyes, he growls. He drags out the scene, that prima donna!

Who is my monster? The bar manager? He’s one, but the Muscle T guy and the others are worse. Who is my victim? Doug, a nice guy with a budding history of avoiding confrontation. How long can I drag out the scene?  Not long. A few thousand words, if that. What’s my equivalent of shining a light in the T-Rex’s eye? Maybe having the Mustang engine roar?

You get the idea.

Now, my monster has to be menacing. I’m not sure I got there, but it’s a bar manager and a drug dealer, not a T-Rex. My victim has to be scared, which Doug is, but however scared Doug gets is the max amount of scared the reader will get. I may have to make Doug more fearful to get readers properly concerned here. And the length of the scene is about as long as it can reasonably be.

What you want to consider:

  • What are ways to make the monster scarier?
  • What are ways to make the victim more vulnerable and show their fear, or, like Doug, show it while trying to hide it?
  • When you review your MS, find the scariest words to insert.

Also

What happened before the monster scene in JP? A happy car ride. What happened before the confrontation scene in my story? A ride to a bar. Both serve as a contrast to the confrontation that occurs afterward. That’s the roller coaster. To make the hill higher, have a valley before it. The calm before the storm.

Please don’t take this as my way of saying my chapter is as scary as the scene in Jurassic Park. I’m not. They are different types of scenes.

But learn from examples, and employ the process, the theory, of what drives these type of scenes.

Finally:

At some point, ya gotta stop polishing and publish. I will probably make the changes I mentioned about Doug’s emotional reactions early in the scene, because I feel the scene lacks tension in places. It can be better.

Tweak this, adjust that – but at some point you aren’t making the story better, you’re just making it different.

This scene can go to print right now. Tweaking will help, and since it has to go to beta readers, I’ll make those tweaks. Otherwise, this sucker is probably publishing in March 2017. No more polishing. You have to let go.

Now:

head shot

Let me have your comments. The next chapters will post tomorrow but they will ALL come down shortly after February 15, so don’t dawdle!

You are readers, too. Your input will shape the final product. Be honest.

Share and reblog these! Your friends need to know this stuff, too.

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 – $2.99 or FREE on Kindle Unlimited!

Available in paperback and audio book, too!

 

7 thoughts on “Writing A Tension Filled Standoff

  1. Well played, well played indeed. I could feel all of Doug’s energy and i was tempered by the little statements, of “regretted my decision” and “big mistake” I liked that we really couldn’t see who it was across the parking lot but that gave us the chance to imagine what it would be that would scare us that much. Gave our own imaginations a workout. A box of donuts and a shot of Crown in that soda, please!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think it works….wait… I know it works the way it is in the final scene. I was leaning over my lap top biting my lip wondering if Doug was going to get beaten up or worse killed. Even if it was the bar manager I thought, oh hell he’s going to have to show face in front of his mates and then when Tyree turned up I was like “Yes.” it works Dan, very well the way it is. and thanks for using old T Rex as an example, I love the Jurassic Park movies.

    Liked by 1 person

What do YOU think? Let me hear from ya.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s