Squirm (Episode 5: Tension)

A “telling tales” episode about ways to build tension in fiction, with stories, excerpts, and prompts. Featuring guest authors Lena Coakley, Sarah Raughley, and Don Cummer. 45 minutes. PG. 

Listen to the full episode right here or from your favourite streaming platform.

“Squirm” – Cabin Tales Episode 5

Read the episode transcript:

Listen to the “Fright-free” version of “Squirm” (not so squirmy):

“Squirm” – Fright-free version (Cabin Tales Episode 5)
Show Notes

[0:00] Introduction:

[1:15] Story Intro

Today you’ll hear a story where a pair of sisters are alone on a swimming platform with their old blind dog and a container of worms. And everything starts to squirm. 

[1:35] Trigger warning:

Fishing (animal cruelty); bullying; violence; accidental death. To skip the story, ahead 10 minutes when you hear the musical bar near the beginning. Or download the “fright-free” version. 

[2:40] Story: “Sisters”

[13:40] Commentary: Books worth rereading

Work hard on your prose so that your story is a pleasure to read. 

[14:55] Excerpt from The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss

[15:45] Copy the technique: write well.

[17:05] Commentary on Anticipation

You create narrative tension by making the reader hope for things to resolve one way, and dread that they’ll turn out another way. 

[20:15] Excerpt from Deltora Quest by Emily Rodda

[19:45] Copy the technique: Build dread with foreshadowing and dramatic irony. 

[22:40] Commentary on Stakes

Make your reader care about your character and their goals. 

[24:15] Excerpt from Lost Boy by Christina Henry

[25:05] Copy the technique: Add more obstacles on your character’s path, and more need inside your character to overcome those obstacles. 

[26:05] Interviews with guest authors

[27:05] Lena Coakley on planting questions

[28:15] Sarah Raughley on raising stakes

[30:00] Don Cummer on looking for trouble

[31:30] Drafting and revising for tension.

[31:45] Lena Coakley revises at every stage

[32:45] Don Cummer revises to find the best pacing

[34:00] Sarah Raughley adds tension to her outlines

[35:15] Anecdotes 

[35:15] Don Cummer on vulnerable characters 

[37:55] Lena Coakley on her agent’s advice 

[37:15] Sarah Raughly on stakes in a series

[39:00] Story Prompt: “Simon and Woolly”

[41:35] Thanks and housekeeping

Tune in next week for Episode 5.5, “Author Interviews about Pacing” with guest authors Kate Inglis, Lisa Dalrymple, David MacArthur, Jeff Szpirglas, and Marty Chan. 

[42:50] Monster Movie Quote

 “Why don’t we just wait here for a little while, see what happens.” 

Thanks for listening. 

Music on the podcast is from “Stories of the Old Mansion” by Akashic Records, provided by Jamendo (Standard license for online use). 

Host: Catherine Austen writes books for children, short stories for adults, and reports for corporate clients. Visit her at www.catherineausten.com.

Guest Authors
Lena Coakley

Lena Coakley was born in Milford, Connecticut and grew up on Long Island. In high school, creative writing was the only class she ever failed—nothing was ever good enough to hand in!—but undeterred, she went on to study writing at Sarah Lawrence College. She has published two YA novels, Worlds of Ink and Shadow and WitchlandersWicked Nix, her first book for middle-grade readers, was nominated for the Silver Birch Express Award, the MYRCA Sundogs Award, and the Rocky Mountain Book Award. She now lives in Toronto with her two cats, Bonbon and Pirate Jenny. Find her online at www.lenacoakley.com; @lenacoakley

Don Cummer

Don Cummer is the author of the “Jake and Eli” stories published by Scholastic – a series about two best friends growing up during the War of 1812. The first book, Brothers at War, was short-listed for the Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young Readers. Don was born in Calgary and grew up on a ranch. He moved to Ottawa, where he wrote speeches for a living, and now spends his time between Canada and Ireland – where he’s finding many more stories to tell. Find him online at   www.doncummer.com or on YouTube at  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jSJOMFDqjhk&t=2s

Sarah Raughley

Dr. Sarah Raughley grew up in Southern Ontario. She is the author of five YA fantasy novels, including the bestselling Effigies series and the forthcoming Bones of Ruin series. Her books have been nominated for the Aurora Award for Best Young Adult novel. Her academic research concerns representations of race and gender in popular media culture, youth culture and post-colonialism. Sarah is a fangirl of manga and sci-fi TV. Find her online at https://sarahraughley.com and on Twitter at ‎@s_raughley

Published by Catherine Austen

I am an award-winning Canadian author of books for all ages, including Walking Backward (Orca), My Cat Isis (Kids Can Press), 26 Tips for Surviving Grade 6 and 28 Tricks for a Fearless Grade 6 (Lorimer) and All Good Children (Orca). I live with my family in Gatineau, Quebec.

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