Last week, I had a stress test. When I walked into the room and saw the treadmill, I laughed. "You call this a stress test? Treadmills are NOTHING to me. Send back a manuscript with revisions and tell me it has to be done in a week and I'll show you stress!"
Or 3 blogs that need to be done in one day.
Or a new idea that isn't quite working.
Or an editor on vacation when the clock is ticking on your deadline.
Or a desk filled with emails explaining how to do online PR that I don't have time to read.
Those are stress. Not the treadmill. Hell, I love my treadmill.
Laughing a bit, the technician explained that to test my heart, they used the treadmill to manufacture stress.
As I was acing 4.2 miles an hour with a 16% incline, I thought about stress and how hard we work to have big things happen in our manuscripts to create tension and raise the stakes, and I realized we're manufacturing stress too.
But is that always such a good thing?
The best tension, stress, stake-raising trouble evolves simply, naturally ... Dare I say organically ... when you combine your specific characters with their situation.
Sometimes when your book is lagging, it might not be the fault of plot, but maybe the fault of your characters. Are they "rich" enough -- and I don't mean monetarily! Are they flawed? Have they made mistakes? Do they grow? Do they need to grow? Do they make choices along the way in your story that prove growth?
Were they hurt, disappointed, cheated, manipulated, lied to, beaten down...
Do they have reason to distrust, reason to fear, reason to desperately want to succeed?
That's how you get stress, tension in a story. You create rich, wonderful, detailed, flawed characters who have made mistakes, been disappointed, been cheated or lied to or beaten down, who desperately want to succeed and you test them -- you challenge them -- with a situation that brings out their worst -- until it brings out their best...and they win.
Then you won't have to manufacture stress. It'll be there naturally :)