A new kind of tension

Happy October everyone. Craig here again, and I’m on record more than once saying that tension sells stories. We try to use whatever we can to get some tense moments into our tales.

The world is changing, and it’s moving so fast that many of us are struggling to catch up. This is a golden opportunity for authors. It seems many of us are completely glossing over those lessons our grandmothers taught us. Either that, or grandmothers have changed too.

Think about classic advice like: Think before you speak; If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is; and If all your friends were jumping off a bridge, would you jump along with them?

We live in an internet society now, and some of that is causing us problems. We all have a platform that allows us to say whatever crosses our minds. Slip on the ice, put that on YouTube. Bad service, put it on Facebook along with pictures. What happens in Vegas… lives forever on the internet.

People are more complex than five minutes on the internet. We’re more complex than any five minute snapshot of our lives, but the internet has fostered a shame culture along with everything else. Shame culture leads to bandwagoning.

Now, take some of those thoughts and look for the tension points. We can use these for our stories. There can be some serious ramifications here.

Maybe the waitress was having a bad day, because one of the pharmaceutical companies quadrupled the price of medicine her child needs to survive. She’ll never be able to afford it now, and your Facebook posting got her fired to go along with everything else.

Those pictures and videos from a Las Vegas trip twenty years ago might not be so funny when you’re involved in a nasty divorce, or running for political office.

Let’s examine the case of Polito vs Moldovan. I made that a link for more information, but here’s the story in a nutshell. A prominent beauty blogger hired Polito to photograph her wedding. This is a big deal these days, and a contract was signed all around.

When the process was finished, Polito failed to deliver either electronic or physical photographs to the Moldovans. Moldovan turned to her fans to shame Polito for what she’d done. Fans jumped on the bandwagon, and it wound up in the news about the horrible vile things Polito did to this couple. Fake bad reviews were rampant. Bookings canceled, and her business completely failed.

When this shook out in court, all Polito wanted before delivering the photographs was to get paid. Moldovans refused to pay her the last nominal fee in their (legally binding) contract. Time marched on, and the courts ordered Moldovans to pay Polito one million dollars over the false smear campaign they used to destroy Polito’s livelihood.

As authors we can use this stuff. There is a serious hammer-stroke on both sides of this story. Business equipment and tools cost money. Sometimes it’s financed. A failing business, the shame from your former client base, and more could make for a great bit of tension.

On the other hand, there is some serious tension in being the celebrity blogger who didn’t pay her bills, and was ordered to pay that kind of restitution. One-million dollars in the hole probably isn’t a great way to start off a new marriage.

This case is an example, but it really happened. As authors, what kind of ramifications can we invent for our fictional characters?

We also live in a kind of Big Brother environment. Everyone has a camera on their phone these days. There are security cameras everywhere too. Could this cause someone to hesitate at the wrong time? Think about a cop who could have fired his weapon, but didn’t. The news is full of cop shaming these days, and maybe he hesitated because of that. What might the fallout be for failure to act?

Maybe someone cannot get a fair trial, because the guy who filmed an act refused to keep it off YouTube. Now the prosecution has no choice but to let the criminal go. Tension.

Our modern culture seems to have forgotten about facts and evidence in favor of public opinion. It’s easy to make some allegations, but tough to back them up. Doesn’t matter, as long as you can ruin someone’s reputation, career, or relationships. It all has a kind of Salem Witch Trials feeling to it, and that really happened too.

As horrible as this sounds, it’s gold for an author. Some of this could be background tension, or the driving focus for a story.

We’ve already seen the nightly news getting more and more sensational, because the internet is taking their viewer base. Maybe there is a story inside the newsroom that is worth writing. The reporter doesn’t want to run a shame piece about a celebrity, but does it to keep her job. Whatever happens next is her fault.

So how about it, gang? Would you consider using Yelp, Twitter, YouTube, Amazon, or some kind of shaming culture to add tension to your stories? I get it, if you write historical pieces, or even classic fantasy, you might be limited to the shaming without the internet versions. The internet based tensions project well for futuristic stories though.

I’d like to hear from you. Have you included some of this in your stories? Would you now consider it?

31 thoughts on “A new kind of tension

  1. Pingback: Story Development and Execution Part 7: Pacing, Tension, and Suspense | Story Empire

  2. Just read a piece in a SciFi where someone in the media set-up an embarrassing situation just to get back as someone. How and why things can be done in a story vary widely but the basic concept of embarrassment is a good one to use for all kinds of reactions and motivations.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Author Inspiration and This Week’s Writing Links – Staci Troilo

  4. Wow truth is stranger than fiction every time. You couldn’t make that stuff up! 😁 Social media references are certainly feeding into novels for young people these days, its part of youth culture. I like the idea of FB being always on and watching you through your phone as a plot device for providing some tension. I think I’ve made references to cell phones in stories, but not really used social media as a key part of a story, but that’s mostly cos I write about the past, but I certainly would consider it in a contemporary story.

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  5. You bring to light a most relevant point today, Craig. You are so right in that everything is “public” these days. I can definitely see where any of the social media platforms could be used to add tension to our stories. I see all sorts of possibilities. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Definitely an interesting topic with a lot of fodder for authors to consider.

    I don’t think I’ve mentioned social media in any of my books (though several were set in earlier decades). I’m not a fan of the stuff, especially the social behemoth that starts with an “F,” but as an author, I could see myself doing some pretty cool plot-wise with it. I’ll have to consider this for the future. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Reblogged this on Archer's Aim and commented:

    Excellent observations for tension. I bet I could find some ways to interject these examples into a fantasy for solid effect. My mind is already working on an upcoming plot point where all is not what it seems but the situation places the lead characters in a bad light. Read more about C. S. Boyack’s take on tension over at Story Empire.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. This bears some consideration. Using this new tension would make excellent plot points. On the other hand, if the story takes off, it could bring a backlash to the author. It would be my luck that my first mega-hit would also make me a target for a hate group. (I wrote a blog post that garnered me such attention. It was a little disturbing, but it ultimately resulted in nothing. Thank God.)

    I think I’d be up for trying to incorporate this new tension in my work. It’s fascinating. Exciting. At no point in the history of the world has society been in the “Big Brother” condition like we are now. I have to wonder how Orwell would change his work (or if he would) if he were to write 1984 today.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Excellent post, Craig and certainly gives food for thought. I’ve mentioned social media in a couple of stories but haven’t used any controversial stories in my books. I’m kind of like Harmony, I tend to stay out of the nastiness (political mudslinging on Facebook is enough to make me never want to go there again). But story ideas are everywhere and you are right, some of them could create some great background and tension in fiction.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Great post, Craig! I do tend to ignore modern internet and social media in my books … a sign of my age, lol 🙂 As ever, you’ve inspired me to greater heights. Another reason I haven’t, I think, is that I do my best not to take too much notice of all that nastiness out there. I suppose as a writer, it pays to stay current, though. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hadn’t thought about it either. Then one of the real life melodramas was unfolding on the news. It occurred to me that we could destroy fictional lives with this kind of thing too. It will make sense in the real world of our readers.

      Liked by 1 person

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