On Suspense in Storytelling, pt. 2 – Unpredictable-Unputdownable

Every story, by definition, contains suspense in one form or another.

The most common form is the Predictable-Yet-Still-Desirable (from pt. 1), wherein the reader/viewer already has a pretty good idea of what’s going to happen before it happens, but wants to see it anyway.

This may be either to feel the satisfaction of having been correct in his/her predictions, to see exactly how it happens, or to be already emotionally prepared to vicariously undergo a universal human experience.

Somewhat less common is a second form of suspense, which, ironically, is probably the form that more readily comes to mind when one hears the word “suspense”: the unpredictable-and-thus-unputdownable, which keeps the reader glued to the book, and still reading long after s/he should have gone to bed.

All stories by their very nature contain the precursors of this type of suspense.  How could they not?  Stories come to us described by blurbs designed to hint at the plot and its major turning points, but ultimately give nothing away.

They’re the very definition of suspense, for who knows what might happen between the lines of that enticing paragraph on the back of the book or DVD case?

Not all stories, however, retain that suspense.

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On Truth in Storytelling

I have one more piece of favourite writing advice I was unable to fit into my previous post on that subject.

It’s a writing tip whose source I unfortunately can no longer recall.  I’ve searched through all my writing how-to books, photocopied pages, and notes I’ve taken in various journals over the years, but I’ve been unable to find it again:

The job of a story isn’t to tell what’s true; it’s to tell what people believe.

It’s a rather bald statement, to say the least – one that’s stuck with me for years.  It’s yet another touchstone I’ve tried to apply to all my writing, ironically, without even knowing how it’s writer meant for it to be interpreted, for I can’t remember that either.

What does it mean?  I’ve spent the last year and a half since I started writing again searching for an answer to that question.

I believe I’ve found two.

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The Kelly Clarkson Method of Plotting: Throwing a twist in the tale

Have you ever heard Kelly Clarkson’s 2005 song Because of You?

The other day, I was trying to assemble a soundtrack for my novel-in-progress, and the song came up on my iTunes:

[Chorus] Because of you I never stray too far from the sidewalk / Because of you I learned to play on the safe side so I don’t get hurt / Because of you I find it hard to trust not only me, but everyone around me / Because of you I am afraid

If you want, you can have a listen to the whole thing here:

While this song didn’t make my soundtrack, I like it nonetheless, for whenever I hear it, it recalls me to an important consideration regarding plots and predictability.

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