Upping the Tension with Flawed Characters

 Upping the tension and flawed characters

 Margo’s Choice: Woman’s Fiction

How much can we learn about a character and his or her conflict in the first pages? Do we need descriptions? Can we show without telling?

Excerpt 1  Margo

“Maybe I should become a lesbian for a week,” I blurted.

Carol choked on what was left of her watered-down frozen strawberry daiquiri. I intended to pat her back, but she had become a blur – three too many daiquiris for me. Even the beige walls of my den seemed to move.

“Where the hell did that come from?” Carol stared at me as if I’d grown two heads.

I gulped the rest of my drink and said, “Don’t know what else to do.”

“Spill,” Carol banged her glass on the coffee table. “right now, Margo.”

I hiccupped. “Jay Lake.”

Carol stared at me.

“Rose, I mean,” I squinted at the portrait of my girls over the fireplace. Oh yeah, “E-lec-tra’s father.”

Carol shook her blonde head. “Electra?”

“Yeah, Rose is calling herself Electra,” I strained my befuddled brain. “and Deidre’s father.”

Carol’s blank look prompted me to explain. ”Jay… their absentee father – ”

“What about him?”

I scratched my head, barely feeling it. I never drank more than one mixed drink in one sitting and no straight liquor.

“Electra got a letter from her daddy.” My head didn’t want to stay on my neck. It wanted to float off. Good thing it was secured.

“And?” Carol prompted.

“He’s coming to see her, of course.” My throat felt like a desert. I tried to untangle my legs and get off the couch, but the damned thing wouldn’t let me up. “For her birthday, but he’ll be a few days late.” I needed water and lots of it.

Carol stared at me over her glass. Her eyes didn’t look so clear. “And you want to become a lesbian, why?”

I tried to remember what I had said and why. Oh, yes.” “Jay, of course.” Simple enough.

“What? That makes shit for sense.”


So, now we know that Margo isn’t looking forward to seeing her EX but why become a Lesbian for a week? She thinks he will only be in town for a week. But why make him think she doesn’t like men?

We also know that Margo doesn’t drink much, but she has this night because she’s worried about seeing her EX again.

We know that her daughter Rose wants to change her name from a sweet name to one that is strong and kickass.  

We know that Jay was an absentee father, but we don’t know why.

Excerpt 2  Jay

Jay sat behind the wheel of his new Mustang.

Though he’d healed after his last combat wound, his leg still insisted he stop driving and walk around to ease the stiffness. But now that he was on his way home, he’d stop for gas and nothing else.

He’d planned to take his time shopping for the right car, now that he planned to settle down in his hometown. He’d driven the rental car for the five hundred miles from DC after debriefing. He’d pulled off I-95 at an exit to get a fill up and grab a bite to eat. Wandering through the truck stop he grabbed three matching sweat shirts – one extra-large to accommodate his Marine-built body and two small men’s size for his Rose and Deidre. He couldn’t wait to see Rose. She’d emailed him that she wanted him home for her birthday day after tomorrow so he’d worked hard to get there early.

Eighteen wheelers passed him while he kept his speed close to the limit. He rubbed his jaw, grinning at the sandpaper feel. He hadn’t gone a day without shaving since his last leave.

He had to learn to treat both girls as daughters, unless their mother had come clean and told Deidre the truth. Hell, he’d forgiven Margo years ago. Their marriage had been doomed from the start. At the time he’d married her, they’d believed they were in love, “‘til death do us part” love.

Margo hadn’t understood his craving for the excitement and thrill of competition that had made him a champion athlete. The testosterone jolt made him the man he was. She hadn’t understood he couldn’t settle down and work behind a desk or in his family’s dairy farm business as she’d expected. He’d signed up to be a Marine because he wanted to travel and he needed to protect his country. Discussing his plan with her would have caused an argument. He’d have joined up anyway, why argue about it? She had anyway.

Why hadn’t she remarried? She had certainly liked the wife and mother thing. According to his mama and the girls, she loved teaching in the community college. Hell, if he’d gone into a branch of the service that would let her travel with him, she’d have taken forever to get her graduate degrees and she’d have hated being away from family, hers and his. Of course she’d have been with him and might have avoided becoming involved with other men while she was still his wife.

The knot in his chest damned him for a liar. He had to relax his death grip on the steering wheel. Even after more than seventeen years her betrayal still hurt him. He hadn’t wanted to believe the hints about her running around in the letters from his cousin. The photos sealed the fate of his marriage. He’d been faithful to Margo, but photos of her with other men, laughing, hugging, looking into each other’s eyes, said she hadn’t.

When she asked for a divorce he knew they should separate. If he’d truly loved her the way he should have, he’d have tried to make things work. He hadn’t wanted it enough. Together they were explosive, but they’d been in lust. How else had they had such passionate sex when he’d agreed to a divorce? He still didn’t understand.

The baby she’d tried to pass off as his had been the final straw. Had she thought to hurt him or just needed someone to support her? Obviously the father hadn’t wanted to claim the kid. Maybe she didn’t know who had planted that seed. Well, he hadn’t. After the slip-up that created Rose, he’d been careful to prevent another mistake.

Rose, a mistake? Yes, but one he’d loved from the moment he set eyes on her – Rose who’d toddled behind him on his leaves, Rose whose printed letters and crayon drawings had been with him twenty four-seven, even in the field, even on the battleground. He reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out the small photo folder. Opening it, he glanced at the photos inside. His parents and the girls sat in front of a last year’s Christmas tree.

Jay’s conflicts are their conflicts, a double whammy!

He’s coming home to stay, but she doesn’t know this.  Here we use Dramatic Irony.

He wrote one daughter, the one he believes is his.What about the other daughter? 

Both daughters adore him. Margo doesn’t trust him. Can you see problems for Margo and at least one daughter?

Contact Mary Marvella






https://www.facebook.com/pages/Mary-Marvella- Author/121044561311561


Follow Mary Marvella on Twitter @mmarvellab


Books by Mary Marvella

Haunting Refrain, The Gift, Margo’s Choice

Protecting Melissa, Protective Instincts, Cost of Deception

Forever Love, Write Dirty to Me, Her Deception. Cheerleader Dad

Weeding the Garden of your Manuscript: What Editors Wish You Knew.

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This entry was posted in children and family, Contemporary, Life's surprises, Mainstream, Uncategorized, writing and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Upping the Tension with Flawed Characters

  1. These are some pretty great examples. I myself tend to put in flaws just for the sake of it, but now I think I’ll taking the tension up a notch. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. marymarvella says:

    Thanks for your comment! Each flaw has a purpose in my story, even if I don’t know at first. Some flaws actually help characters grow. I’m glad what I said resonated with you!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Josie says:

    It’s all about tension, MM. and yes, each character flaw should have a purpose, although it’s easier said than done. Hah!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Janet says:

    Excellent postand good advice. Story sounds rather fascinating

    Liked by 1 person

  5. deesknight says:

    Mary, loved your excerpts. They make a lot of promises that I’m sure your book delivers! I want to find out how, so the hooks worked!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Ed Hoornaert says:

    I like the misdirection in the first snippet. When she says she’ll become a lesbian, she isn’t hitting on her friend; that’s code for being interested in sex with the dad.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Interesting examples. And yes, I definitely see trouble ahead!

    Liked by 1 person

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