“True” suspense raises the question, “What’s going to happen next?” It arises organically and authentically from characters and their actions as conveyed to us through a firmly established, consistent viewpoint. “False suspense” is generated by an author who, intentionally or otherwise, withholds information.
Telling readers what to think or feel is the job of a propagandist. A storyteller’s main purpose, on the other hand, is to create experiences for the reader, to involve us so deeply, so convincingly, so authentically in those experiences that we feel what characters feel.
Routine is important. Without routine the extraordinary events that make for a plot have nothing to work against or to set them into relief. But that routine also needs to evoke character to make us feel something.
As writers, we’re always either setting up some moment or scene, or paying it off. Since scenes are the building blocks of narrative, we should always be writing scenes.
Literary fiction’s subsumption by other genres and vice-versa has become so pervasive one must wonder what distinction if any can still be claimed by “pure” literary fiction beyond pretentiousness.
One reason behind the supremacy of the writing rule “Show, don’t tell” is that telling is, frankly, harder. To gain and hold a reader’s attention through action and dialogue is one thing. To do so through exposition is another.
To those who may object that the mere fact of two opposite-sexed people sharing the first scene of a novel (and a cockpit) doesn’t—necessarily—imply a romantic future between them, all I can say is … yes, it does.
I have had mixed feelings about ghost narrators. As narrative sleights-of-hand go, it strikes me as a little too easy, a bit too glib. It also requires suspension of all four laws of thermodynamics.
When we read about routines in fiction, or in any kind of story, most if not all the pleasure we get from the experience derives from our anticipation of seeing the routine shattered, or, at the very least, disrupted.
In most works of fiction, either a character’s status-quo condition of discontent is challenged when opportunity presents itself — or — a character’s status-quo condition of contentment meets with an obstacle.
Among a novelist’s chief challenges is that of determining what information to supply when and where: how to balance the desire to arouse suspense with the need to prevent confusion.