Sunday, October 23, 2011

Writing stuff: Surprises, Suspense, Thwartings, Anticipations


So, the editor at Wildside is looking at Constant Tower this weekend. Knowing this, I've been spending my days and nights wondering how "exciting" or page-turning the story is. That got me thinking about surprises, suspense, thwartings, and anticipation in my novel ...and of course what might seem like dull stretches.


Some definitions needed:

Knowledge in a story can be broken down into:
A) Backstory and/or future events only the writer knows
B) Backstory or future events the reader knows about but which the main character is unaware of
C) Backstory or future events the main character knows about but which the reader is unaware of

Anticipations include:
A) Backstory or future events the readers are aware of  but which the main characters are unaware of. Thus the readers are anticipating the main character discovering the backstory and greatly desiring the characters success in the future event.
B) Backstory or future goals which both the readers and the main characters are aware of. The reader is then waiting to see how things will pan out. (Usually the reader is on the MC's side.)
C) The main character's declared main goal..usually the main goal of the entire novel.
D) The main character's declared intermediate goals or adjusted goals. (Those incremental plans that cropped up along the way because the main character had to adjust his plans.)
E) Kneejerk, cliched reactions the reader has been taught to expect
F) Stuff the reader's mouth is watering for. These are generally unspecified goals involving the main character which the reader wishes will happen (The reader might be wanting the main character to fall in love with another particular character whom the main character has not met or is not interested in "in that way." Or the reader might want a specific bad guy to get his comeuppance. Or the reader might want the father to acknowledge his son, or for a lost son to find a lost mother.) The writer should be aware of these prelibrations because if the writer doesn't "feel" what her reader wants, she could make a grave error.

Suspense occurs when the reader is waiting for the anticipated event or planned goal. These goals can seem momentarily thwarted when:
A) The reader knows the main character's personality enough to suspect the main character isn't going to get his goal anyway.
B) The main character didn't know something the reader knows.
C) Both the main character and the reader don't know something the writer knows (which may or may not be a good thing.)
D) the kneejerk reaction the reader has been taught to anticipate does not happen because the writer consciously chose to do something else.

Thwartings can be good suspense or good frustration or bad frustration. The effect of a thwarting depends on whether the reader:
A) can see the necessity of the thwarting
B) Likes/Dislikes the main character
C) Trusts/Distrusts the writer
D) will put his/her rigidity or kneejerk expections aside. (This involves the reader learning to distrust himself and be a bit more open-minded.)

And there are surprises.
A surprise occurs when the writer has laid the groundwork in a subtle foreshadowing but the reader missed the hint. The reader will rebound from the surprise and rethinks the situation (and look back over a few pages) then will see that she missed a clue and should have anticipated such an outcome

A surprise can also occur when the writer knew something and did not tell the reader. (This is not a surprising outcome but a plot surprise. There is no way the reader could have anticipated this.  This kind of surprise is dangerous to play with.)

Dull stretches occur when the reader:

A) Isn't anticipating anything.
B) Doesn't know what they should be anticipating
C) Doesn't understand why some present event is important
D) Doesn't care about the anticipated event
E) Has lost all love/care/trust for the character
F) Is brainwashed to like certain tropes/cliches/patterns and is not open to challenging changes
G) Is wondering if the writer should be trusted

I think I did well in Constant Tower. The suspense, surprise, thwartings, anticipations....all... work in all these page-turning requirements.

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