Author Joe Konrath gave some advice on his blog on how to create suspense. It read, in part:
Writing is a lot like teasing your younger brother with a secret.
The longer you hold it over his head, the more worked up he gets.
stories, no matter the genre, can benefit from suspense. The tension
doesn’t have to be in the form of the bad guy stalking the hero. It can
be much simpler, much less dramatic, but still make the reader want to
keep reading. For example:
"You seem upset," Jack said. "What’s up?"
"I’ll tell you later." Herb said. "In private."
And we have suspense.
No, what you have is bad writing and an irritated reader. I like Joe a lot and, ordinarily, I think he gives very good advice. This time, I have to disagree with my friend. The example he shares isn’t suspense… it’s a cheat, something weaker writers use when they don’t know how to generate any real suspense, which comes from character and conflict, not gimmickry.
Suspense is about conflict, about the obstacles between the hero and his goal. Suspense is about stakes — personal, physical, and emotional — and a race against the clock. Suspense is about the unknown and a head-long dive into it. Suspense is not about contrivance and word-games.
The example Joe gives is the literary equivalent of the TV moment when the heavy opens the drawer in his desk to gaze at his gun…or the serial killer sticks a knife in a picture of his next victim…or the bad guy picks up the phone and says to someone "Sgt. Hooker is nosing around. He must be eliminated before he stumbles on our evil plan"… or having key plot points happen during the commerical so the viewer won’t be aware of them.
I was about to leave a comment telling Joe why I think his advice this time is dead wrong but several other novelists, like Rob Roberge and my brother Tod, beat me to it (they also teach writing at UCLA and UC Riverside). Here’s what Rob said on Joe’s blog:
this so misunderstands the nature of suspense…suspense occurs when
the reader says "What will happen next?" It doesn’t occur when the
reader says "What is happening?" This is a cheap gimmick…and good
writing, no matter the genre, avoids gimmicks…to not say what’s going
on (as in the example you use where a character asks a question and
then have it unanswered), is the sign of an insecure text that doesn’t
trust there’s enough story to hold the reader with good writing and
characters, so they use manipulation and beginner’s tricks.
And here’s what Tod said:
I read a book recently by a crime novelist of some renown who shall
remain nameless and this is exactly the sort of drama building he did
— cryptic conversations that augered for a big reveal somewhere later
on, but which only served to annoy me as a reader, primarily because
the narrator knew all the answers but chose not to share them with the
reader. It felt like a short cut in place of actual emotion and drama.
As a writer, I knew what this writer was doing, could see it taking
shape 100 pages before the big reveal came and I thought, in my writer
hat, Oh, this is a silly thing to do. As a reader I thought, as I sat
out by my pool, Oh, give me a break, just tell me the damn piece of
What are your thoughts?
40 thoughts on “What is Suspense?”
Could not agree more.
Well if TJ Hooker did it then it must be wrong. We all know that TJ Hooker failed immediately after the pilot aired.
Newsflash–not only is all suspence contrived, but all writing is contrived. That’s the point. Dramatic structure exists because it works, and a predetermined outcome posits contrivance.
In my blog entry, we had a discussion about weaker writers who do this, such as Cussler and Koontz and King.
I wouldn’t mind being grouped with those guys. I especially wouldn’t mind their sales.
You write for TV. You know the lines right before the commercial break have to be zingers. You know the motive isn’t revealed until the ending. All of this is contrived.
Tod said: “I read a book recently by a crime novelist of some renown who shall remain nameless and this is exactly the sort of drama building he did”
Hello McFly! That’s what I’m saying! It’s being done my crime novelists of renown. I’m assuming this writer has fans and a writing contract. But it’s wrong to do the same thing?
You want me to teach writers how to do things the ‘correct’ way and not the ‘popular’ way?
Sorry. Can’t do it. I had to read reams of boring crap in school, force fed to me by the literati. Stuff written the ‘correct’ way that bored the pants off of me.
Suspense is about creating a situation where the reader wants to know what happens next. My post, about newbie writers blowing their who info wad the moement they think of it rather than letting it play out over the course of the book, is one way to create suspense. An effective way that many writers use.
You can omit info and still play fair. One of Koontz’s best books, Strangers, has all of the many characters with wiped memories saying the word “Moon” over and over. We don’t find out what that means until 600 pages into the novel. Had we known the moment it was introduced, it would have drastically reduced the impact of the story.
Soap operas and awards shows use the same format. The finale of American Idol is 90 minutes of crap to learn 5 seconds of who wins. And everyone watches until the wretched end.
To point your finger and say “bad writing” when it’s used by 90% of popular writers simply doesn’t make sense.
Totally correct. I always think of Hitchcock’s ticking bomb explanation.
What Joe described as a method of creating suspense is hands down the thing I hate the most. You have no idea how cheap and used you feel as a reader when an author pulls that one of their bag of tricks.
I could see the example working in some context or other, but I could see just about anything working in some context or other. As a prescription for how to create suspense, I don’t think it’s very useful, though.
I find that kind of trick annoying–not because it’s a trick, but because the trick doesn’t work.
I have to disagree with you, Joe. I don’t think the method you describe is used by 90% of the successful suspense authors out there. I think they are better than that.
Stephen King is a master of suspense…and he doesn’t resort to those sorts of gimmicks. He creates his suspense from character, from conflict, from high stakes.
Michael Connelly, Thomas Perry, Lawrence Block, Lee Child, Lisa Gardner, Dennis Lehane, Robert Ludlum, Barry Eisler…they don’t create suspense using cheats and contrived conversations. They do it by establishing the key characters and revealing to us the complex internal and external conflicts that shape them. The authors tell us what the goals of the characters are, how the characters hope to achieve them in a limited amount of time, and what the characters will risk to do it. And then the author shows us the insurmountable obstacles facing those characters. What they don’t do is attempt to create suspense by artificially restricting the flow of information to the reader using contrived situations and conversations.
The best suspense authors establish a point-of-view and share with the reader whatever information would logically pass in front of that particular lens. I’m not saying you should say whodunit on page one of a mystery…but I am saying is that the way you with-hold information has to be much more character-based and conflict-driven…not formulaic, artificial and contrived. When character is revealed, information is revealed. Eliptical dialogue and cutting away before the key phrase is spoken isn’t the way to do it.
In your post, you used soap operas as an example. Okay, compare the scene structure and dialogue of DAYS OF OUR LIVES with, say, the scene structure and dialogue of THE SOPRANOS, and you’ll see what I mean. Both shows attempt to create suspense…but THE SOPRANOS does it more organically. The suspense comes from character, and our knowledge of the conflicts and stakes, and not from cutting away before a conversation is over (a frequent gimmick of soap operas and bad novels).
“Well if TJ Hooker did it then it must be wrong. We all know that TJ Hooker failed immediately after the pilot aired.”
TJ Hooker was crap. NOBODY would hold it up as an example of good writing. Yes, the show lasted five years…but that doesn’t make it a good example of how to write cop shows.
“Yes, the show lasted five years…but that doesn’t make it a good example of how to write cop shows.”
Lee, surely you see the irony in that statement.
And surely you can apply the same technique to dozens of cops shows, and other shows, like the aforementioned soap operas. In one breath you dismiss every soap opera as badly written?
Remember a guy called Columbo? Was that show crap, because he knew what was going on but the audience didn’t?
Preston and Child’s Pendegast series is famous for this. Their hero knows things, but doesn’t reveal them to the audience until many chapters later.
Are you supposed to reveal the hero’s tortured past in the first five minutes of the narrative? Or do you keep the past hidden until the dramatic reveal at the end of Act Two?
Stephen King doesn’t use this? Did you read Tommyknockers or Dreamcatcher?
You talk of cheats, gimmicks, and contrivances, and yet you write episodic television, which is so strict, so formulaic, that 99% of shows can work off a template.
Saying that this type of writing is poor, yet acknowledging that it is popular, is sending mixed messages.
The audience will ultimately decide what they like. If you say, “They like crap,” then it’s our job to write crap. If you say, “They like quality entertainment,” then you can’t ever call anything crap if it is popular.
The difference between good writers and bad writers isn’t in the use of gimmicks, stereotypes, cheats, formulas, or contrivances, because all writers use these. The difference between them is that when good writers use them, they’re transparent, and when bad writers use them, they’re obvious.
Suspense is the art of carefully withholding information from the reader. The information, however, must be important to the plot, or the character development, or something else that drives the book. In my books, for example, there is a lot of back story that happens before page one, which then drives the characters and plot starting on page one. That backstory is then peeled back slowly througout the book and is intertwined the the current action.
There’s real suspense, and then there’s its clothing. “I’ll tell you later” is just its clothing. It’ll fool some readers into thinking there’s an emperor in there.
It’s the structural equivalent of using character tics instead of creating characters.
Joe, your “if it sells, it’s good” position is… well, adjective deleted. Good things sell, bad things sell. Good things fail to sell, bad things fail to sell. If you’re incapable of discerning writing quality without looking at sales figures, what are you doing giving writing advice?
Good suspense is when you give a reader the information but they don’t realize it. Sleight of hand. Mention the five objects in the desk but dwell on the gun when what’s important is the phone bill. Then blow up a helicopter out on the lawn so everybody forgets the phone bill. Or whatever.
“They do it by establishing the key characters and revealing to us the complex internal and external conflicts that shape them.”
And just how much of that to includeis what I’m struggling with at present, since I’m not a novelist. Hemingway in the end couldn’t decide what to cut, in which cutting to the bare bones was his forte. King is effective in that I like his settings and story even though the final outcome means much less. It may just be that I’m from a small town in Maine and it’s familiar to me. That and we had some big spiders lurking in the basement; rats in the factory and so on.
I have to agree with both you and Joe (not about TJ Hooker).
I’ve seen Joe’s version of suspense done very well with first person POV.
And it has annoyed me to have it done in third person POV.
Why? In first person, we can assume our main character doesn’t know everything. But I hate the stinking narrator who keeps pertinent facts from me!
As a reader and as an author, I’m not a fan of contrivance at all. Whether it be in creating suspense, throwing in unexpected twists or a surprise ending. I think intelligent readers want and appreciate credible storytelling.
Yes, the stratosphere of bestsellerdom is packed with writers that fall short of being Fitzgerald, but if their meeting their goals sales-wise, their readers obviously aren’t that partial to good writing – just good entertainment.
Contrived gimmicks or not – the worst thing an author can do in storytelling is piss off or annoy the reader. The proof of the pudding is in the eating.
re: TJ Hooker…i tivo it like mad…they had a pre-heather episode on last night (super rare)…
i LOVE TJ Hooker (Thomas Jay, for the trivia buffs), but i did a spit take when i saw someone using it as an example of good writing…it makes CHiPS look like The Godfather.
Which is why it’s so friggin funny.
I think Joe was emphasizing the importance of suspense, not necessarily the how-to’s of it, otherwise the blog entry would’ve been much longer. As for gimmicks, sometimes they work. How else can you explain the scary music that accompanies suspense scenes in movies?
***Suspense is about conflict, about the obstacles between the hero and his goal. Suspense is about stakes — personal, physical, and emotional — and a race against the clock. Suspense is about the unknown and a head-long dive into it. Suspense is not about contrivance and word-games.***
I’m printing this out and posting it on my wall for future reference.
I’m reminded of something Dan Brown did in The DaVinci Code. He constantly referred to something the woman had seen involving her grandfather which had caused the rift in their relationship. He did this so often that I finally flipped ahead to find out what it was because it was just annoying the hell out of me. Then I was annoyed because it wasn’t that big a deal.
Joe wrote: “Remember a guy called Columbo? Was that show crap, because he knew what was going on but the audience didn’t?”
Actually, you have it backwards. The audience knew who the murderer was and every detail of how he committed the crime and Columbo didn’t. We knew everything. The suspense, the pleasure, and the fun was watching how Columbo overcame the tremendous obstacles in his path to solve the crime. The reason Columbo endures is because of character…not superficial trickery. It was all about character.
I agree with you that misdirection and controlling the flow of information are essential to creating suspense. Where we disagree are in the methods.
But we also have a fundamental disagreement:
You seem to equate popularity or financial success with quality. The two aren’t related. If they were, then BAYWATCH is the best-written TV show in history, SAW II has richer characters than THE CONSTANT GARDENER, STRAP-ON SALLY is more densely plotted than THE WIRE, Brittany Spears is one of the best singer/songwriters of our time…
Shouldn’t we all be writing?
“Good things sell, bad things sell. Good things fail to sell, bad things fail to sell.”
So what is the objective defnition of “good?”
“I’m reminded of something Dan Brown did in The DaVinci Code.”
That might have annoyed you, Liz. I wish I could annoy 38 million people like that.
“You seem to equate popularity or financial success with quality.”
That’s the essence of my point, Lee. It’s impossible to objectively discern quality. All we have to do so is popularity and financial success.
If a lot of popular and financially successful authors use suspense in the way I described, I contend that it is considered quality writing, based on my definition. What is your definition? 🙂
Wow, this is a great discussion. Learning and thinking, learning and thinking. I’m not an expert, of course, but I’m thinking of North by Northwest. We were mostly in Cary Grant’s POV, so didn’t know a thing other than what he knew. The info was dribbled out as he learned it, but it was his character–this poor guy mistaken for someone else, confused, angry, determined–that kept us sucked in and wanting to know what happened next. I cared about the character, and I guess that’s the key. If the reader/viewer cares about what happens to this person, then suspense is/seems more natural.
Could be wrong, I admit, but this is me working through everything that’s been said. Thanks again for the discussion.
I’m going to disagree with everyone, because I’m difficult like that. I think it is possible to have suspense without depth of character development, but letting the reader know that you’re witholding information from him is not suspense. Since Stephen King has come up, I’ll use him as an example. In ‘Salem’s Lot’ there is a scene where the main characters go into the house where the vampires are hiding. We know it’s going to be violent. We’re pretty sure we know who is going to die and who is going to live. But we don’t know how or when and the fear and anticipation that generates is what I would call real suspense. Waiting for someone to tell me something they already know is not.
(And you can add me to the list who found the narrative tricks in the Da Vinci Code tiresome and annoying. I can remember three or four separate times when he started a scene halfway into a conversation, after the critical information had been given, and I only made it a third of the way into the book. I know a lot of people bought it and loved it. That doesn’t prevent me from believing that it’s lousy.)
“But we don’t know how or when and the fear and anticipation that generates is what I would call real suspense. Waiting for someone to tell me something they already know is not.”
I also think that one objective way to consider a book’s quality is to look at it over time, if you want to see where the nexus of art and commercial success occurs. What stays in print? What’s a perennial seller? Compare, say, LOVE STORY and TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, PEYTON PLACE and THE GREAT GATSBY. Which book will people be buying more of twenty years from now, DA VINCI CODE or THE MALTESE FALCON? No-brainer.
Look at a snapshot of best sellers for some year a ways back over the past fifty. Which books have you heard of? Which would you pick up to read now? JONATHAN LIVINGSTON SEAGULL was number one for 1972 and 1973. FROM HERE TO ETERNITY topped the list in 1951.
While I certainly find myself in Lee’s camp on this one, this is one of the reasons I’m reluctant to have debates on technique and style. The reality of it is that anyone who writes knows everyone has (or should have) their own voice. And they’ll have those who love and hate their work as a result. Nobody has 100% if the population in their camp, although why everyone doesn’t agree with me, I’ll never understand. But they’re entitled to be wrong (in case you can’t read the smirk, I’m joking).
This is why some of us don’t read Dan Brown. Or Patricial Cornwell. And the sales figures figures show I’m lonely. Oh well.
But since I’m here…
I am one of those readers that is the most annoying of creatures: I am also a writer. And I am a reader that buys 90-95% of all of the books I read because I love my books – the ones I don’t buy are Christmas and birthday gifts. If I buy a book where I feel it is contrived, where I feel cheated along, where the characters and the plot aren’t enough to compel me to read until my spouse threatens divorce if I don’t turn off the light but the author has resorted to cheap ploys, I’ll be angry. And I’m not pretty angry. (Just ask my husband.)
And I won’t just be angry that I wasted some time. I’ll be angry that I wasted some money. Believe me, it will be a hard sell to get me to invest in more offerings from an author once burned.
I actually have a huge pet peeve with the, “if only she knew what a bad decision that would turn out to be” chapter ending. If it’s been a contentious enough decision, I’ll already be thinking about the ways it could go wrong. Maybe editors make writers put it in, and I can live with it once or twice in a book if the characters and plot are captivating me, but dialogue like the suggestions given by Mr. Konrath would have me throwing the book against the wall.
What I really find staggering is that anyone has to be so forceful with their view. Hey, you’ve got your opinion. You’ve got a right to it. And on your own blog, feel free to spout away. Nobody makes anyone else go there. It’s not like you’ve put a gun to their heads and made them read it.
But others have the right to their opinion as well. And when you speak in a public domain, there will be those that publicly disagree. It might be wise for people to remember that how they interact and speak on blogs and forums contributes to the impression they give others. I am an avid mystery/thriller buff. And I’m a person who will go buy a book because an author has made a good personal impression on me – I want to give them a chance, I’m really rooting for their work to be good then.
I must say I always enjoyed Diagnosis Murder. And I certainly have an appreciation for the way that you, Lee, have expressed your opinion on here. It does not come across as smug or condescending, “do-not-listen-to-me-and-be-damned-you-f’in-idiot.” Unfortunately, some have conveyed that impression on their blogs.
“It’s impossible to objectively discern quality. All we have to do so is popularity and financial success.”
Hmmm. Good is determined by the numbers alone. Why do we waste time with Leonardo Da Vinci’s work when he wasn’t appreciated in life? Are we dumber than the population was then? Look at the gimmicks and fads that come out day by day by day that people buy into, even if they’re stupid and useless. Should we liken the inventor the ‘pet rock’ to the inventor of the lightbulb?
I recently posed this question to Mark Billingham on his forum (not yet public – will be any day now…)
I’m curious to know what you find most challenging about writing. Is it coming up with the ideas or do you put a lot of pressure on yourself to improve your storytelling and writing with each book? Or do you find other forms of writing (eg short stories) more difficult?
Just being generally nosey.
It’s certainly not the ideas, though heaven knows I wish I had a lot more of them. It’s definitely just a question of trying to improve as a writer; to write a better book. There ARE pressures, some of them commercial of course, but at the end of the day you’re always trying to raise your own personal bar. I can’t believe any writer doesn’t at least set out at the start of a new novel with that ambition. OK, there are a few who clearly don’t give a toss as long as they continue to sell, but all the writers I admire are always ready to admit that they can get better and will strive to do so. Sadly of course, we often fail but there you are. What I ALWAYS find challenging is starting a book. It doesn’t matter how many books you’ve already written, it only takes a few weeks without writing to forget that you can do it at all. You spend the first hundred pages feeling like a novice…
Well said Mark, and I completely agree. The goal is to improve on your skills, to better yourself as a storyteller, a writer, a creator. Without the cheap gimmicks.
I have to agree with Lee on this one. I think Joe had a point, but the way he made it is going to lead to more bad writing than good.
I see beginning writers (of which I am one) do what he advocates all the time and we do it very badly. We hide things the reader needs to know in order to invest in the story because we think that’s how you hook the reader. It’s not. It’s how you confuse someone and get them to throw your story across the room. Hard. Followed by a flaming match.
If writers are precise in what they hide and then slowly build shadowed layers of description, character tics, and conversation that progressively reveal key plot points, they can keep a reader hooked. This can be effective in the right hands, but it’s not as simple as Joe made it out to be. I think Joe’s entry didn’t quite convey the subtlety and skill involved in doing what he advocates and I fear some new writers, who don’t know better, are going to take him for his word.
I often use the following explanation to try and show new writers why this ‘keeping secrets from the reader equals tension’ approach fails.
Imagine reading The Hobbit without knowing why it’s a bad idea to put on the ring as well as not being told the fate of the world rests in little hobbity hands.
Essentially the story is reduced to this little midget man running around with this ring that seems to create all sorts of problems, but you don’t know why and, after a couple of near death experiences (for the midget, not you the reader), you really can’t understand why the midget doesn’t just chuck the damn thing in the nearest well or take advantage of the invisibility conferred by the ring. And on top of that, the story is filled with all this Grand Adventure High Falutin’ Fantasy Code Speak and it rings false, sounding pompous and somewhat lame, because you don’t know what the freaking Big Deal is.
Everyone knows what’s going on but the reader and neither the characters nor the author are going to deign to explain anything.
I see this mistake alot in the stuff I critique and it is not fun to read.
What is it about humans in general, and writers in particular, that makes us want to believe what we’re doing is more important than it actually is?
We’re entertainers. We’re the folks ont he street corner who sing for pocket change. We aren’t saving the world. We aren’t curing disease. We’re conceited enough to believe our words are so important we must write them down, and if we’re really lucky, someone pays us for those words.
It’s all gimmicks, folks. Even the best writing in the world still has that little guy behind the curtain, pretending to be the All Powerful Oz. Narrative structure hasn’t changed since were were sitting around the campfire, roasting mammoth.
The only time gimmicks are cheap is if they’re visible.
On another note, DaVinci was staggeringly popular during his life time. Perhaps you’re thinking of Van Gogh, who died in obsurity?
But if he truly died in obscurity, no one today would know who he is. Somehow he caught on, and became popular. And because he’s known, society venerates him as a great artist.
But if he truly died in obscurity, no one today would know who he is. Somehow he caught on, and became popular. And because he’s known, society venerates him as a great artist.
Vincent Van Gogh was a tortured genius who’s star burned across the heavens too fast for him to ‘catch on’ while he breathed. His painting career was short, less than a decade, and largely informed by his rapid descent into mental illness. He took his own life when he was 37 years old.
I’d argue that there wasn’t a lot of time for him to become known. He was overshadowed by other talented painters who had the advantage of being in full possession of their faculties. Those painters, among them Gauguin, recognized his genius.
Van Gogh gained recognition more than a decade after his death. He ‘caught on’ because his genius leaps off the canvas and grabs the viewer by the throat. Anybody fortunate enough to see Van Gogh’s work live and not in a catalog is unlikely to leave the exhibition unmoved.
Society venerates him as a great artist because he was a great artist. He is known thanks to the tireless efforts of his brother, Theo, a man who loved him dearly, kept him in canvas and paint, but failed to hold him to this world.
If Van Gogh remained unknown, he’d still be a great artist. It’s ourselves who would be diminished by the lack.
Joe wrote: “The only time gimmicks are cheap is if they’re visible.”
And the techniques you described in your original blog post are obvious and highly visible — which, by your definition, makes them gimmicks.
I wholeheartedly agree with you that writing suspense involves a manipulation of information, but in my opinion it needs to be done subtly, artfully and with character…and by playing fairly with the reader. It’s a lot harder, and takes a great deal more finesse and skill, than I think your post makes it seem. I don’t think you meant it that way, of course. But I fear some aspiring writers will take your examples literally without appreciating just how difficult it truly is…and build some very bad habits in their writing.
Joe wrote: “It’s impossible to objectively discern quality. All we have to do so is popularity and financial success.”
Oh c’mon, my friend. You can’t honestly believe that. If you do, then I guess Big Macs are gourmet food.
Jim wrote: “Suspense is the art of carefully withholding information from the reader.”
I don’t agree with this. Suspense is the art of juxtaposition… seeing someone walk on a bridge who doesn’t know that the supports are cracking. Suspense is the implication of impending disaster or violence. Suspense is constant upping of stakes, creating increasingly difficult obstacles for the hero to overcome. Suspense is desire. Suspense is surprise. Suspense is a whole hell of a lot of things besides with-holding information.
“On another note, DaVinci was staggeringly popular during his life time. Perhaps you’re thinking of Van Gogh, who died in obsurity?”
Hmmm. Most likely. Of course, with the other Da Vinci being blabbered on about so much these days, I guess I got my wires crossed.
But if suspense really is the art of withholding information, I’ll finish my remarks on the subject tomorrow.
Killing you, isn’t it?
Where is a “roll-your-eyes” emoticon when you need one?
“More people eat popcorn than caviar.” — Mickey Spillaine
Joe wrote: “It’s impossible to objectively discern quality. All we have to do so is popularity and financial success.”
so, “The Clansman” by Thomas Dixon (a bestseller…HIGHLY popular…in the late 19th century which scapegoated blacks and led, directly, to the formation of the Klu Klux Klan…or, say, Mein Kampf (also a bestseller…highly popular) are great books? By Joe’s narrow, and really indefensable, definition, they are.
and if you say they’re not (and I think you’d agree they’re NOT great books…), Joe, you getting subjective…which makes your absolutist and reductive point about sales=quality moot.
More people drive mini vans than Porsches. Doesn’t mean Spillane himself wouldn’t prefer to have endured soccer carpool behind the wheel of a guards red Carrera 4 ragtop while scarfing down toast points crammed with beluga. Ditto Orville Redenbacher.
I think Lee might have hit the nail on the head with his last statement or two. The problem is not that the character is saying “Tell you later,” the problem is that he’s doing it so… transparently, I think is the word I’m looking for.
One character withholding information from another is a normal process of life – people do this to each other for a variety of reasons. The problem is, it needs to be a good reason, and the fact that information is being withheld needs to be much, much more subtle than “Tell you later.”
Despite the fact that many people I know have read The DaVinci Code, I know exactly 0 people who thought the book was actually good. His technique is painful and transparent (They opened the door. What they saw behind it made their blood run cold. END CHAPTER NEXT CHAPTER It was a duck.) and it grates on your nerves after twenty pages or so.
The reason the book sold so well is because the information contained in it (most of it completely false) was “controversial.” Not because it was a good book.
Chuck Palahniuk nailed this in an essay he called “burying the gun,” – essentially, hiding information from the audience as fine… as long as it’s possible to stumble across it.
Has this become a debate about morality?
Morality is dictated by the majority in any given society.
Who allows atrocities to occur? People allow it. At certain points in history, horrible things happened because the majority allowed it.
I don’t happen to know the sales figures of the Clansman or Mein Kampf. But during the time period when they were released, if the public embraced them, I’m sure people in those times considered them great. If not, why did they sell so well?
That they didn’t stand the test of time says good things about modern society.
This strengthens my theory–that there is nothing intrinsic in any work of art that makes it great, only atributes that people ascribe to said work of art.
Societal opinions of greatness change. Popularity changes. But it’s still the best (and really the only) indicator we have to judge artistic merit. Or do you have a better way to judge greatness that isn’t subjective?
I thought you left the door open at the end of every chapter. The loose ends get tied back in later. At least that’s the way I’m doing it, but it may well not work. I’ll know when I get there.
“Despite the fact that many people I know have read The DaVinci Code, I know exactly 0 people who thought the book was actually good. ”
Give me a break. This reminds me of the infamous statement of film critic Paulene Kael, who expressed astonishment that Richard Nixon won the 1972 election because “nobody she knew” was voting for him.
Many people like the Da Vinci Code. You may not personally know them, but millions of them exist. Deal with it.
Societal opinions and popularity do change. That’s why we will soon see Nicole Richie’s book in the discount bin when a month ago it was “flying off the shelves.”
If you’re influenced by popularity and/or societal opinion, then how do you find your unique writer’s voice?
I’d rather be judged solely on my writing, not my adherence to popularity or societal opinion. I’ve always been a nonconformist anyway.
As an example to what good writing is that has stood the test of time, I would offer the classic “Elements of Style.”
“As an example to what good writing is that has stood the test of time, I would offer the classic ‘Elements of Style.'”
Written by EB White, who wrote Charlotte’s Web, with this famous first line:
“‘Where’s Papa going with that ax?’ said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.”
We don’t find out until later, by the way. Because White used suspense in the way I recommend.
Not quite, Joe. We know they’re on a farm. It’s not too uncommon for a farmer to be using an ax. If he was an accountant, then there would be cause for pause. But we, as the reader, can pretty much guess what’s going to happen. For Mother to try and parcel out information to her daughter seems very natural to me.
Sorry, but I think you’r reaching with this analogy.