Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Creating Tension

When my friend asks me, "Why is your physics exam at 7:30 pm? That's kind of an odd time. Why not 7 or 8?" I don't think anything of it.

"Why not?  It's only an hour exam." So I go upstairs. It's 7 pm, on the dot. For some reason, my roommate, who is in the same class and taking the same exam, isn't there. I have a panic attack. Crap! I think. What if I got the time wrong? I mean, that would be a really stupid thing to do, seeing as I've already had two exams in physics, and they're always on Tuesdays at the same time in the evening. I'd have to be a grade A idiot to mess that up. Plus, it's been on my radar for at least a week.

But just to be sure, I get online and check the time. 


#$%&?! What? It's now 7:03 pm. 

Pencil. Student ID. What else do I need?! Dammit! Tripping across the room, stumbling over various shoes that I have not put away. Attempt to steal a pencil from the roommate's desk. Of course, all of hers are gone. I find pink hair extensions, a handkerchief, a tube of canker sore medication, and at least forty million pens on my desk, but not a single #2 pencil. Doesn't matter. No time. It's 7:04 pm. My grade will be royally effed if I miss this exam.

Throw on a coat. Shove my keys and ID into my pocket and run for my life. Discover that it is really hard to run in boots down the stairs. Outside, it is raining, because it has been raining every mother#$%&ing day in Illinois since October. I didn't have time to grab an umbrella, and besides, mine is broken. God, why do you hate me? Quickly apologize to God for pinning the blame on him. Because now I have to pray virulently while running in boots across campus. Why is Loomis so far away? Leaping over puddles. I take my glasses off because I have no magical rain repellent spell like Harry Potter. Can you envision this? I almost crash into three people. My eyesight sans corrective lenses is horrendous. I am like a bat. Except without echo-location. I didn't even bring a cell phone. I have no idea what time it is.

My lungs are about to explode. I had sloppy joes for dinner ten minutes ago. Bad life choice. Bad! I think I'm going to puke. I stop running and settle on a fast walk. I'd rather not walk into the test room with vomit dripping down my chin. 

Nope. Not good enough. I run again.

I run several traffic lights. I am verbally begging Jesus to let me into the room now. It's the bargaining stage, where I swear I'll be a better person, if only I can take the exam.

I crash into Loomis, and thank heavens, the door is open. I don't question why. It's one of those huge lecture halls where the seats sit on a steep incline and the doors are at the back of the room. Everybody is already there, and my heart sinks a notch. Up until now, I've been secretly hoping that the time on the website was wrong, and it was all one big happy mistake. But no. I am officially, utterly, completely, not even fashionably, late. So I have to walk past everybody, and it is the longest walk in the world. I have no mirror, but do not question the hot-mess-ness of my appearance. I check the clock on the wall. 7:15 pm. #$%& my life. 

My TA stares at me.

"Can I--can I still take the exam?" I sputter out. It's like someone started a fire inside my chest. I need water. 

He looks at me as if I am a bug that just had the audacity to crawl up on his arm. More specifically, like I am a soybean aphid who has flown into his eye. Whoops. "No."

I stand there like he has just murdered my grandmother. "Are you serious?" I am quite sure a lifetime passes as I feel my grade sliding down the drain like clumps of hair in the shower.

He relaxes. "No, I'm kidding. Yeah, you can take it."

"Oh my gosh, thank you so much. I thought the exam was at--"



He hands me the materials with the kind of mild reprimanding look, and I try to put on a suitable expression of guilt. Oh, also. "Can I borrow a pencil?" I ask timidly.

"Wow, you're just really prepared today," he deadpans.

"Yeah...you could say that." No. I love you? Would it be strange/illegal if I said that? I decide to quit while I'm ahead and find a seat. I drop my ID and pencil. I am the biggest klutz in the world, and NO I will not look back to see if he is laughing at me, because my face is the shade of a turnip. Sit down. Some people look at me. Yes. I am a grade A idiot.

But all is well. Because I am taking the exam. At this point, I don't even care if I know all of the answers or not. At least, I am seeing the answers and filling in bubbles. I am on cloud nine.

Crap. I have to pee. Story of my life.


True story. How do you create tension in a novel/scene? I'm struggling with it in my NaNo. I want my story to be as exciting as it was when I was racing across the Quad like a lunatic. It was exciting in a horrific way. And it will never, ever happen again. 



  1. I tend to incorporate things that I have experienced (on one level or another) myself, because it allows me to capture that raw reality in my writing. Well, at least it's what I strive for : )

    Hope that exam turned out okay : ) ...

  2. I like how you tie this back to writing. Haha. Truly a harrowing tale and one of those situations you hope never happens to you while in college but inevitably does. -__-' I'm sorry you had to go through that, but I'm glad your TA was cool and let you take the exam.

    My similar moment was when I overslept on the day of my group presentation, and was woken up by my groupmate's phone call going "Um, where are you???". I had to run 3 blocks from my apartment to campus and then literally to the other side of campus where the Psych building is, which also is on top of a hill. A steep one.

    We were supposed to go 2nd, but since it is impossible for me to run that far in 7 min, my group got our professor agree to moving us down to 3rd or 4th. I still had to walk into that tiny classroom though (it was a discussion-sized class)... And there were profuse apologies from me to my group, who thankfully were pretty chill about the whole thing.

    So yeah, I feel you. Though I think yours is worse because of exam factor + rain. God. Props to you.

  3. LOL. You are such a goof (and I mean that in the nicest way possible). If the stories you write are anything like this tale, you'll do well.

    Oh, and good luck on the test. I hope you did well.

  4. Ooh, I love this post! I felt like I was going through the experience with you...which, you know, NIGHTMARE, as I despise Physics. So I applaud you for taking the class, not to mention, making the effort to actually get to the exam. I'm not sure I would have run like that for a Physics exam, but perhaps that makes me a lesser person. ;)

    Can I ask what your major is? I thought you were going to be a hardcore lawyer by day, bestselling author by night.

    And creating tension is definitely a challenge for me. I heard that the best way to do it is to think of what your MC cares the most about and then throw the worst thing they can imagine happening at them.

  5. I got an 88%, which curves out to be an A on the exam. Thanks to God and my TA.

    Eric- Thanks, haha. I will consider it a compliment.

    Sarah- I'm a history major (so physics is a gen ed for me). Yes, the lawyer thing? That's the plan. But the plan was also not to have to miss 15 min of my physics exam, so you see how well plans work out for me. I live dangerously.

  6. Love that! So much tension. You know how to tell a story, my friend.