Tension in a story = page turning

In an article I read from the Utah/Idaho SCBWI, Lisa Hale wrote:

“In order for readers to connect to the story’s tension, they must know and care about authentic characters who exist in realistic settings and encounter realistic situations. This authenticity is what readers often describe as voice, although it is much deeper and richer than that.

“The most effective first lines create a natural tension by introducing all three story elements–character, setting, and situation–through carefully chosen diction. The first line of Louise Erdrich’s short story, ‘Sister Godzilla,’ illustrates this natural union well: ‘The door banged shut, and then the children were alone with their sixth-grade teacher.’

“Erdrich conjures an identifiable setting (sixth-grade classroom), recognizable characters (students and their teacher) and a subtle but palpable tension with the ‘door banged shut’ and the ‘children were alone with their . . . teacher.’ The students are trapped. Something is going on with the teacher. That’s what we feel when we read the story’s first line.

“Erdrich doesn’t tell us, not yet, that the teacher has a prognathic jaw or that one of her students calls her Godzilla. After all, as a master-storyteller, Erdrich knows that she has to leave the story someplace to go.

“In stories, as in life, we care most about what happens to those we love and know well.”

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