Tension: Too High, Too Long

I spent my evening cursing vociferously after my enthusiastic, but ham-fisted, attempt to finish two choral compositions.  When the tirade faded, I had a thought about plot tension.

I loved watching Lost.  Between smoke monsters, fantastic characters, and the altered laws of physics, trying to figure out what the hell was going on was half the fun.  Just when one question was answered, three more popped up, making for some serious, drawn-out tension.  Alas, the shrieks of outrage on Twitter after the last episode showed how many people were disappointed by the ending.

Because I'm cheap as hell and a huge fan of many shows that aren't on cable or network TV, I don't have live TV, just Netflix.  I just got into Bones.  The sexual tension between Booth and Brennan is fantastic.  Two great characters, an interesting premise, and many, many layers of plot make for an engaging, addictive show.  I've been devouring episodes whenever I haven't been writing or wiping my little guy's nose.

Finally, halfway through Season 4, I couldn't take it anymore.  Do they?  Don't they?  I did a little research.  Though I couldn't bear to find out exactly what happens to their relationship in subsequent episodes, I read just enough to suspect I won't be happy with how things turn out.

I think there is a definite risk to creating exceedingly long, drawn out tension.  It's fun to be completely enthralled with a story, but if the tension is too drawn out I think that any resolution will disappoint in some manner.  If one has a large audience, I think it's likely that one can disappoint a shitload of people.

I had been planning on trying to create intense romantic tension in my novel series, but I'm starting to think I should modify the romantic angle somewhat.  What do you think?


  1. This is what happens when an open-ended series relies on essentially a single device to keep its audience hooked. It gets old. Indeed, my wife strenuously objects to series that stress continuity developments along with, or over, solving the Problem du Jour. "Prime-time soap operas!" I hear her cry. She refuses to be brought under the power of such machinations, and I don't blame her.

    My proposal: Term limits. Babylon 5 rather spoiled me on series television because from the start it knew where it was going and got there. Now, five years is admittedly a long time to continue story threads; but at least I knew Straczynski wasn't doing it to see if he could play with our heads indefinitely. (My wife refused to believe he had a five-year plan until the day when, toward the end of year four, I told her they had shot the final episode, to be aired after the rest of the series was done.)

    Tension? Not a problem, I'd say, as long as the reader trusts you not to string him/her along in saecula saeculorum, amen. Go for it. Just go somewhere, okay?


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