The snippet in this lesson is all about increasing tension.

Wait... wait on... I can hear a car. No, it was someone passing. Someone leaving the city. If you climbed the dying jarrah trees down there towards the creek, you'd see the lights of the city. From here, the only lights in sight are from Cherry's roadhouse a hundred yards along the highway on the other side of the road. You can see their bowsers glowing, and sometimes you think you can actually see the numbers rolling in them, but you're just kidding yourself.

The tail lights of that car burn the bush up and go slowly out. Burke and Wills.

Ah, another car. That'll be the old man. He's late. Boy is he late. Mum'll be mad.

The car comes up the long drive towards us, but the engine noise is all wrong. Mum is going out. If I could, I'd go out too, but I'm all stuck, like the chair has hold of me. I'm scared, a bit. I am scared. I'm scared. There's fast talking out there. Isn't anyone gonna turn that engine off?

The essence of creating tension is setting up the possibility of something bad happening, and making the audience wait to find out what happens.

Is Ort’s dad coming home, or has he had a car accident? Tim Winton uses a false alarm (an approaching car) to make us think there’s an answer, and then makes us wait while he describes the environment.

Then he describes a new car, and stretches out the reveal again by not telling us directly what the news is.

So this is all about building tension by delaying giving answers, and delaying by focusing on other parts of the environment.

  • A false alarm, which you can use to shift focus to the surrounding environment
  • Some environmental details—both in the distance and immediately surrounding
  • A messenger bringing bad news
  • A way to limit the perceptions of the narrator—Ort can only see and hear part of what’s going on because he’s in his room. You’ll need a similar way to limit your narrator’s perceptions to help you follow the highlighted patterns.