Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Fiction: Creating Suspense

Hands down, the most superb suspense authors are fishermen, especially the ones with the cool bumper stickers. Try this one, lean back in your chair, close your eyes and think about all the epic ichthyological tales of the attempt to pull in the “one that got away”. Astounding enough, not one is the same. You may ask, “But why Scott?” It is because savants of suspense are the masters of our tall tale art of fiction.

The act of creating suspense is the bullet-riddled attempt to create a feeling of relative anxiety, panic or excitement in a reader/audience. Basically, we are creating a copy of a copy. And since all things second hand are naturally a little Panglossian (sort of like second hand smoke or your best friend’s attempts at hooking up with your ex) this requires a degree of creativity and effort. To recapture the feeling of unequivocal fear, pain, savagery or love…to leave the reader as breathless as you were or your characters is a feat of great pursuit rivaling that of the stream of consciousness.

We are responsible as professional liars to dig into our guts and face not only our fears, but also the collective nightmare of the planet. If suspense is a meal, then its medium of preparation is the crock-pot. Yeah, I’m getting somewhere just hold on. This element of fiction cannot under any circumstances be half-baked or thrown together. Suspense takes its time, like a dull knife sliding into the character’s ribs, initially fracturing the bone, then cracking the marrow out and restraining the victim’s screams. The style is slow, deliberate and potent enough to fog a room. For purposes of lesson, discriminate against your reader and imagine they are def, mute, blind and disabled from the eyes down. Suspense requires that you carry the reader through every detail and then suddenly without warning, as their hearts are preparing to explode, launch them into the climax of the story and gracefully allow them to breathe.

Suspense is the orgasm of literature. No one wants an imitation.

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