A MacWhat?

Happy Monday! We've got a fantastic guest blogger to kick off our week on BUILDING TENSION (da da da DUM), Kristen Crowley Held. I first met Kristen in the SCBWI Nevada Mentorship program. She's an awesome upcoming author and a good friend to the Muses. Plus, she's hilarious. So without further ado, I hand the baton to you, Kristen.

Hello! First, I hope I’m dressed appropriately. There’s not a lot of fashion advice for dressing as a Guest Muse so I kind of had to wing it.

When Bret told me this week’s topic was going to be BUILDING TENSION, I was immediately filled with, you guessed it, TENSION. I’m not sure if it was the prospect of writing a blog post for the fabulous YA Muses, all of whom I greatly admire and don’t want to disappoint, or the fact that he put it ALL IN CAPS.

Either way, I was nervous and sweaty and totally stumped for what to write.

So, I did what I usually do when I’m stumped. I headed over to my local Novel Solutions store to see if they could help me out. I was relieved to see my buddy Carl behind the counter.
“Ms. Held, what can I help you with today?” Carl asked. "You look rather…tense." He’s very observant.
“Yeah," I said. "I need to write this blog post for the YA Muses and I’m kind of stumped. I’m supposed to be writing about BUILDING TENSION, but-
“I’ve got exactly what you need,” Carl said and he reached under the counter and pulled out a box.

“What’s that?” I asked.
“It’s a MacGuffin.”
“A MacWhat?” I reached for the lid.
“Don’t!” Carl batted my hand away.  “You must not open the box under any circumstances.”
            "Um, I don't want to doubt you, Carl, but how exactly is this supposed to help me with my blog post?” I asked.
“A MacGuffin is the perfect tool to create TENSION. Just ask Alfred Hitchcock.”
“I’m pretty sure he’s dead.”
“That's not important. What's important is what a MacGuffin does for your story.”
“Which is what?”
Carl sighed. “I just told you, Ms. Held. It creates TENSION.  It gives your characters something to focus on and raises questions in your readers’ minds. It’s the Maltese Falcon, the Lost Ark, the One Ring, the Sorcerer’s Stone and whatever’s in the briefcase in Pulp Fiction."
“What is in the briefcase?”
“It doesn’t matter. What matters is that someone wants it very badly. So, in order for your MacGuffin to work, the first thing we need is a deadline. When is your post due?”
“It’s supposed to go up on Monday.”
Carl fiddled with something on the back of the box.
“What are you doing?”
“Setting the timer. If you don’t finish your post in time the box will open.”
“Wait a minute, you just said opening the box is a really bad idea!”
“Exactly.” Carl reached back under the counter and pulled out a piece of paper. “I’ll need you to sign this contract. I’m afraid the MacGuffin hasn’t eaten in awhile so I can’t be held responsible for what happens if it gets out. You don’t have any small dogs, do you?”
“Uh, no, but I do have small children.”
“Even better, raises the stakes. Now if you’ll just sign right here.”
I scanned the contract. “Structural damages? Loss of life and limb? Seriously?”
“I assure you, there’s nothing to worry about as long as you finish your post in time. Then you simply bring the MacGuffin back and I loan it to the next desperate writer.”
I stared at Carl. “There’s nothing in the box, is there? You’re just trying to scare me into getting my post done, right? The TENSION actually comes from the fact that I think there's something totally horrible in the box, but really all the MacGuffin does is provide motivation to reach a goal. Right?" I picked up the pen.  "There doesn't even have to be anything in the box.”
Carl smiled. I'm not gonna lie. It was kind of a creepy smile. He lifted the lid of the box ever so slightly. Nothing happened.
“I thought so," I said. And then I gagged. "Holy crap, what's that smell? It smells like egg farts."
The box rocked back and forth slightly as a sound like claws scraping against metal came from inside. Carl pushed the lid back down. Whatever was in the box began to growl.
            I dropped the pen. "You know what, Carl? I think I got this." I pushed the contract back across the counter. "You keep your MacGuffin. I'll be back the next time I need a good metaphor."
            "As you wish," Carl said, still smiling that creepy smile.

The good news, dear readers, is that if you're having trouble BUILDING TENSION in your stories, I'm pretty sure the MacGuffin is still available. Just head on down to Novel Solutions and tell Carl I sent you. Or if you'd rather not risk life and limb you can check out the online MacGuffin generator over at Warpcore SF.

Kristen Crowley Held is a member of the Turbo Monkey Crit Crew (coming soon to a blog near you: http://turbomonkeyswrite.blogspot.com) and she's currently working on BUILDING TENSION in her first YA Mystery.


Thank you so much for guest posting today, Kristen! I think I'm going to stay away from Carl and his MacGuffin, but you definitely injected a little tension into my morning, thinking it might be out there. And I do think it's time someone found out what was in that briefcase...

Hilarious! But Carl & his contract give me the shivers.

Great blog, Kristen. Need to get me some Carl in my life. He do phone interventions?

Point well made, and with lots of humor. Thanks!


Brilliant, Kristen. I could use a growling box to keep my butt in my writing chair.

Great post about tension building. Giving your characters strong motivations and then large obstacles that they have to crawl through is definitely good to keep readers tense and wanting more.

Kristen, I love your humor and your take on the world! And, by the way, the very weird thing is that I have in my house a trunk that looks identical to your MacGuffin! It came over from Belgium to the States with my great grandmother and it's heavy as heck because it's lined with lead or some material that protected papers from damp and wet on ship board! How crazy bizarre that I have such a trunk in my dining room! It's always been a source of angst, as it's too heavy to move and too heavy to sell...but now, I am looking at it in a whole new light. It's still causing me some tension, though, but maybe that's an OK thing with the right perspective! Thanks for the great post!

Oh, loved this! Such an entertaining, yet informative post. You clever girl!

Nicely done, Kristen! Refreshing read...love the trunk comments too, Emma! So fun! Great Great Job! J

Thanks, friends!
Stacie, for you, Carl will even bust out Skype.
Emma, I can't believe you have the same sinister box in your dining room! Carl still won't tell me what's inside, but he says the chest is a 17th century iron strong box. And now that you know it makes an excellent MacGuffin perhaps you can add a new service for drydenbks' clients...

Hooray for tension! How boring life would be without it. I'm still dying to know what was in the Pulp Fiction briefcase, btw. Kristen, you're as funny as ever. Oh, and if you hadn't heard, everyone's going over to Emma's next weekend -- she's serving whatever's in the MacGuffin. You're first.

That was such a great story, I didn't realize I was learning a lesson. Well played.

Thanks for guest blogging, Kristen, and awesome post! I feel TENSE. And I'm also smiling.

I LOVE this post! And just FYI-- I started to feel my shoulders creep up toward my ears, the longer you refused to sign that paper.. THAT's the definition of tension, so GOOD SHOW!! :)

Great post, Kristen! Love the metaphors, the tension - and Carl! LOL.

P.S. Fascinating story about your own historical lead trunk, Emma!

Post a Comment

Grid_spot theme adapted by Lia Keyes. Powered by Blogger.


discover what the Muses get up to when they're not Musing

an ever-growing resource for writers

Popular Musings

Your Responses

Fellow Musers