Tag Archives: emotional tension

Monday Craft Tips: Use lists effectively to create emotional tension

SleddingTobias Wolff plunges us into near tragedy at the beginning of his short story “The Chain”, which begins at the moment when the dog attacks Brian Gold’s daughter Anna:

He was conscious of the dog’s speed and of his own dreamy progress, the weight of his gumboots, the clinging trap of crust beneath the new snow. His overcoat flapped at his knees. He screamed one last time as the dog made its lunge, and at that moment Anna flinched away and the dog caught her shoulder instead of her face. Gold was barely halfway down the hill, arms pumping, feet sliding in the boots. He seemed to be running in place, held at a fixed, unbridgeable distance as the dog dragged Anna backwards off the sled, shaking her like a doll. Gold threw himself down the hill helplessly, then the distance vanished and he was there. (1-2.)

In the first sentence of the excerpt Wolff creates a list of disadvantages the narrator must overcome to save his daughter, contrasting the dog’s speed with the narrator’s “own dreamy progress, the weight of his gumboots, the clinging trap of crust beneath the new snow.”

When trying to enact emotion on the page, consider using lists to create emotional tension.

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