Sunday, February 25, 2007

Edge of Our Seats?

44,000 words (stitched-up corpse on the slab and thunderstorms a-brewin)

So last post I forgot to actually hyperlink the Ten Rules for Suspense Fiction. No idea why, none at all.

Seems to me, with a little bit of flexibility about the stakes, those 'rules' come in handy for all sorts of fiction. Any story where the author wants to ratchet up the tension. Which is most anywhere.

Sure, thrillers are easy that way: the tension is built into the stakes. Can Hiro Protagonist and Y.T. stop an ancient Sumerian virus from destroying all computers (Snow Crash)? Can Frodo and Sam destroy the One Ring before it destroys the world (LotR)?

But that sense of challenge, tension, escalating stakes and shortening timelines pop up all over the show. In Tom Joad's struggles to help his family survive (The Grapes of Wrath). In Little Nell's conflicts with Quilp and her grandfather's gambling problem (The Old Curiosity Shop). In the romantic misadventures of the sisters Dashwood (Sense and Sensiblity).

The real important thing there is the reader's ability to buy into the stakes. I've read all of the above at least two or three times, sometimes with varying reactions. Much as I love them, if I'm in the wrong mood, I can't even buy into a favorite work.

For instance, I've found myself asking, "So what if the Dashwoods have to (gasp) get jobs?" or, "I bet Samwise would be a fine dictator if he kept the ring. Why not?"

Food for thought, anyway...

While I'm at it, here's Ed Gorman interviewing the master of suspense himself. Ladies and gentlemen, Miiiiiiisterrrrr JOHN D. MacDONALD!!


etain_lavena said...

I always just think what makes my stomach go all in a knot and then I go with that. But yes when I am not in the mood either my brain will wonder while I read;)

Charles Gramlich said...

John D. MacDonald is the only author I ever wrote a fan letter to. Quite possiblly the best character writer out there.

Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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