Monday, March 7, 2011

Like Sand through the Hourglass

I was supposed to have this article finished for Savvy on Friday, but I waited until the very last minute to sit down and write it. Now it’s Sunday morning and I have about an hour to get it done. I’m pissy and agitated. Where’s my coffee? Why does my husband keep talking to me as though I’m not working? Why can’t my kids be quiet for five minutes? I’m seriously on a deadline here and I’m about to get out of this chair and open a can of whoop ass on the next person that bothers me.

At least the mayhem and looming deadline have given me this week’s article theme: time constraint and intensity, and why every book you write needs both.

Intensity blossoms under time constraints. Case in point – I’m stressed out now because I have about fifty minutes to get this damned article written. (That’s ten minutes less than I had in the paragraph above.) Time is flying and so are my fingers. Will I get this article done in time? Should I go back and edit? Just hit send? Delete everything and start over?

If you don’t have intensity in your book, what’s going to make the reader turn the pages? What’s going to push your characters to the edge and back? How are they going to grow and learn? Adding a time constraint to your plot will add stress to your characters’ lives and therefore ratchet the intensity level.

If I had started this article on Friday I wouldn’t be suffering from all this stress. I’m literally hyper because of my stress level. I have to get this done. I have no extra time. I’m only at three-hundred words. Son of a bitch!

We can all identify with time constraint in our personal lives. Adding this stress-inducer to our books is a no-brainer. You’ll create an instant page-turner. Remember, time constraint is in addition to your conflict – it is not the conflict itself. Time constraint amplifies the conflict and adds intensity.

Think back to the movie, Speed. Talk about a time constraint plot! First our sexy hero finds out there’s a bomb on a city bus. Then he finds out the bomb will go off if the bus goes below fifty-five miles an hour. Then he hits traffic, but can’t slow down. He finally finds a place where he can do a loop-de-loop to keep the bus moving but the damn thing is eventually going to run out of gas – oh wait – the bus starts to leak gas (adding more time constraint).

So let’s take a closer look at the time constraints applied in the film Speed.

Introduce the time constraint.

Howard Payne: Pop quiz, hotshot. There's a bomb on a bus. Once the bus goes 50 miles an hour, the bomb is armed. If it drops below 50, it blows up. What do you do? What do you do?
Jack: I'd want to know what bus it was...
Howard Payne: You think I'm going to tell you that?
Jack: Yes.
Howard Payne: Aha, very good. There are rules, Jack, and I want you to get this right. NO ONE goes off the bus. If you try to take any passengers off the bus, I will detonate it. I want my money by 11AM.
Jack: We can't pull that kind of money in time!

Time constraint leads to intense situations & stress.

Howard Payne: Good! Now you tell them that the drop point is Pershing Square. You drop the bags and leave. I don't show until all your people are gone. It's getting on to 11AM, Jack, and I think it's gonna be a very pretty day. [hangs up; Jack flips out]
Annie: Jack, stop it! We're really scared and we need you right now. I can't do this by myself! Jack, please?
Jack: [chuckles] We're gonna die.


Annie: What is that smell?
Jack: It's gas.
Annie: We're leaking gas?
Jack: We are now.
Annie: What, you thought you needed another challenge or something?

Intense situations and stress forces characters to make difficult decisions.

Annie: You didn't leave me. I can't believe it... you didn't leave me.
Jack: Didn't have anywhere to be just then.

Let’s sum this up (because I’m running out of time).

Time constraint leads to intense situations & stress which leads to character’s decisions which leads to revealing your character (and their heroic decisions)! Oh…and don’t forget about the HEA:

Jack: I have to warn you, I've heard relationships based on intense experiences never work.
Annie: OK. We'll have to base it on sex then.
Jack: Whatever you say, ma'am.