I just started this book The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks. Within the 1st chapter, a mere 6 pages, there are no less than 7 highly stressful situations, each worse than the last.
Mr. Weeks starts off with suppressed action: "Azoth squatted in the alley, cold mud squishing through his bare toes." This is a very unassuming sentence, simple, almost bland. Nothing is happening. No dialog. No danger. No stress. But there are two very important things that happens in this first sentence: squatting and squishing.
To squat requires tense muscles, as if one was about to spring into action. This gives the reader the sensation that something interesting is about to happen, much more than, say, standing. Standing in an alley seems very ordinary. No tense muscles for that.
And cold mud squishing through your toes gives a very real sensation to the reader. Cold. Mud. Squishing. Bare. Toes. Each word has a sensual reaction within me. I can feel my toes, squishing in the mud.
The next paragraphs show the kid climbing into a small crawlspace under a tavern to find coppers that had slipped through the building's bamboo floor by drunken. In this crawlspace are spiders, cockroaches, rats, and a wild tom-cat, but that isn't his primary concern. Patrons, stepping overhead, could press the bamboo into his back, pinning him. He must maneuver carefully. Or he would get stuck like he did last time.
He must collect 4 coppers to give to Rat for his guild dues, or Rat will beat, possibly to death like he did Little last week.
His shirt catches on a piece of splintered wood, and he can't get loose.
The room above is occupied by arguing assassins. Azoth is likely witnessing something that could get him murdered.
The first problem became reality when one of the assassins steps on his back and slams his face under a muddy puddle. In his surprise, he almost breathed in the water, which would have revealed his presence to the assassins.
As the fight occurs over his head, he realizes that something is crawling up his leg. Too small to be a cockroach. It had to be a white wolf spider. If it bit him, not even a healer could save his leg. He must not squirm or it'll bite. Furthermore, he must move his waist band to let the spider out.
The spider crawls onto his thumb, and he looks at it. It is the white wolf spider he thought it would be, and he flings it away. Then he reaches for the splintered branch to break it off, to set himself free. The sound echoes in the eerie silence after the fight between the assassins. Who is left? Did they hear him?
As he crawls out, 6 coppers in hand, a sword is struck through the floor and into the mud, barring his escape.
So there are four basic problems throughout the chapter: the space he had to work with, the possibility of being pinned by the bamboo floor, the poisonous spiders, and the assassins over his head.
One thing I liked about how the author handled the scene is that each possible danger took its swipe at the kid, some at the same time.
Yes, this book holds much promise. I must go now. I have something I must read.