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Podcast Reviews: I’ve always listened to the occasional podcast, but after attending a recent talk, I made a resolution to make this a more usual part of my entertainment. Since podcasts still sort of operate on the periphery of most people’s consciousness, I’ve decided to help you out by scouring the internet for the podcast shows that I think you, as readers, writers, and generally thoughtful human beings, should be listening to. I’ll take notes on the show, give you the cliff notes version, and then let you decide if you want to venture over and become a regular listener.
Today, I’m listening to the guys over at Writing Excuses. Yes, Yes, I’ve already reviewed them but that’s because I’m obsessed. You would be crazy not to listen to these guys and I would be crazy not to share with you some of the best writing advice on the web. So, here you go, Round 2 of Writing Excuses.
To paraphrase a famous quote from Hitchcock, Put a bomb under the table. If it goes off that’s action, it it doesn’t, that’s suspense.
Example of good suspense: Inglorious Bastards – There is a scene full of dialog when all things are in place for something horrible to happen but it doesn’t.
And what about Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? The moviemakers show someone choose the wrong cup and so we, the audience, know what happens if Indiana doesn’t choose the right cup. The scene is suspenseful because we know the potential consequences.
Therefore, mystery and suspense are actually polar opposites. It’s not suspenseful unless enough information is given. Mystery is when we can’t see what’s under the table.
Another example: Dune – Dune is interesting because it is written with an omniscient narrator, meeting that the narrator knows what’s going on in everyone’s head everywhere. Traitors are revealed, which gives up mystery in favor of suspense. In Dune, we are hoping the characters will lift up the tablecloth.
Suspense comes down to character. The audience wants to know how they’ll react and if they will react in time.
But we shouldn’t downplay mystery because mystery is the part that gives the audience the pop of “Oh hey, that’s cool!” In fact, it’s a valuable tool to be able to switch between mystery and suspense to keep the tension.
Another way to create suspense is by convincing the audience you mean business. Some authors do this by killing off a beloved character. The audience no knows anyone can die. However, there are different opinions on that tactic because character deaths should be meaningful. This might be considered a cheap trick, a crutch, but it’s there. What readers really want is to be convinced that anyone can die and yet not have the characters die. You’ll notice it’s hard to create suspense while writing in first person because we want the reader to be in fear. So, what the author needs is an alternate fail condition. (i.e. will the narrator remain a good guy?)
Consider a slasher flick compared to HP Lovecraft. In Lovecraft, for instance, the fear is that the main character will go insane. And you know what? That can be just as suspenseful because in our normal lives, we don’t often wake up in fear that we’re going to die today.
Suspense can be created when the audience is thinking: I hope so-and-so doesn’t do such-and-such and then we cut to where so-and-so is about to do such-and-such.
The story needs a sense of progress. Put a ticking time bomb in the book.
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