I’ve been thinking a lot about computer games and novels – maybe because I’ve been reading a lot and playing a lot of games at the moment. If you’re wondering, the Ketty Jay series by Chris Wooding and GTA V by Rockstar Games. But I’ve been finding that there is a lot in common between these two art forms (yes, that’s right, I’m calling trashy fiction and horrifically violent computer games an art form – sure, maybe not an art form that everyone appreciates, but an art form nevertheless). The most striking thing that I’ve found is that the success of these novels or games depends, for a large part, on a driving tension. I’m still trying to explain what I mean by a driving tension, so this blog posting is going to be a little bit of a work in progress.
Essentially, a driving tension is something that isn’t resolved at any point in the novel or the game. It’s kind of like the absence of a ‘happily ever after point’; I think the psychology behind it is that there is no closure, and thus we can’t switch off the computer or put down the book. We want to know what happens next. I guess the oldest form of driving tension would be an unrequited love – the protagonist overcomes all of these obstacles for the sake of his one true love, he still believes in love, and there is still hope, but it is unrequited. He hasn’t found her. She hasn’t returned his love. She doesn’t even know he exists. Hence this cues up more explorations and heroic endeavours. A fairly common plot device in a lot of heroic fantasy.
Computer games are, generally, a little more sophisticated – although not always. Computer games generally have set endpoints – the end of a mission, the end of a level, the end of a robbery in GTA 5. So how do you make sure that the player doesn’t put down the game… and then never pick it up again? The master of this, in my mind, were the FF series. Despite finishing particular tasks or missions, something else always happened as a part of it, and so you were sucked seamlessly from one mission to the next. Clever stuff.
My challenge for NaNoWriMo is to do that in my novel. How can I draw my reader along, while maintaining a tension between hope and reality?