Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Telling Stories (Part 6 of 10)

We need to build suspense. Many writers don't get this simple principle about building suspense: It means we withhold significant information to build interest. Recently I read a manuscript and the first three paragraphs told me about a waif who was abandoned by her father and emotionally abandoned by her mother.

Paragraph 4 begins, "I was that child."

My response: Who cares? She told us many facts, but she didn't involve us emotionally in her story. Had she started with herself, she might have made us care.

By building tension, we nudge the reader onward—something that makes them want to know more. What happens next?

In the third blog of this series, I used this opening: "We won't be able to celebrate Christmas this year." With tears in his eyes, Dad turned his face away from us.

Let's build on those two sentences and add suspense.

Dad stared at his hands. "I wanted . . . I wanted to make this a special Christmas . . ." He didn't need to say more, because we understood.

What have I done? I've withheld the detail that you want to read. Why wasn't there going to be presents? Why the teary eyes? I built on that by showing the broken heart of the father. Then I added one more significant detail: "We understood." No presents at Christmas and we understood?

Good stories 
withhold significant information.

1 comment:

  1. Cec, my favorite part about your writing is how you draw people into the story with simple words. Here you zoom in on Dad's face and hands. We feel your pain. I'm learning how to not resolve tension too quickly. Thanks for the specific pointers on the pacing on the way.

    Sometimes there are series of questions we're answering in the story. Do you answer each as the story progresses? When you're answering a "big question," do you typically reserve the aha moment for the very end?

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