Sometimes a character has to tell a story to another character. It’s something I’ve been curious about for a while and began writing about here. Being a writer can attract you to characters who tell stories. My fear, and I think it’s justified, is as soon as a character starts telling a story all the tension goes out of the scene. Now I’m finally going to get the answers I’ve been waiting for, you know, and the character is just going to tell you.
Recently, I was reading a great new suspenseful YA novel. Super setting, super premise. And one of the main reasons I was turning the pages was to find out the story behind the mysterious protagonist. He kept alluding to history that put him in this awful situation, and I was loving piecing things together. Then, about halfway through, he finally tells his story to another main character.
The author did a really good job of it too. She did it just like I would have. It was a believable point in the plot for him to have to disclose what happened. The scene is from the listening character’s perspective. She breaks it up with questions, the listener’s reactions, and the listener’s observations of the story’s effects on the teller. And it’s the least suspenseful part of the book.
So I had a thought about another way to keep the tension in a storytelling scene. I’m still looking for a novel that tries something like this, but I wanted to get it down so I could remember to experiment later. I think I’d like to try having the listener predict what the storyteller might say. This could happen in dialogue or in the listener’s head. I think it might work because the reader could be guessing along with the listening character. Also, it amps up the tension between the storytelling character and the listener –impatience, maybe conflict about how much to share. On top of that, I don’t think I’d have the storytelling character answer the listener’s questions with speech. It would be much better to have the storyteller answer with an action –show the listener an artifact, take her somewhere, perform some grand gesture that allows the listener, and vicariously the reader, to reach her own conclusions.