Thursday, December 2, 2010

Suspense According to the Panel at LUTE 2009

Reading thuRsday
I recently unearthed notes I took during various panels at Life, The Universe, and Everything 2009 (LUTE). Today's selection comes from a panel on suspense with Brandon Mull (BM), James Dashner (JD), John Brown (JB), Howard Tayler (HT), and Dan Wells (DW).

What is suspense?
  • JD - worring about the character
  • DW - Making people wait for something
  • BM - A system of tension and release
What is not suspense?
  • JB - Making things unclear is not suspense. You want a very clear threat where the only thing the reader doesn't know is when it will happen.
How do you like to do suspense?
  • DW - "People aren't afraid of what happens to them, they're afraid of what they're going to do."
  • JB - Give the reader a threat or opportunity (romance); suspense is fed by uncertainty; ratchet it up with conflict and surprise
  • DW - Leave things open and people will fill it in more effectively than you could
  • HT - Switch (briefly) to the PoV of the monster; the reader will tell themselves a better story about the monster than you could.
  • BM - Action is the release in the system of tension and release
What makes bad suspense?
  • JB - You need to care about the characters. The purpose of the beginning of the story isn't to build suspense but to build curiosity.
  • DW - The "other shoe" - you've got to establish the pattern; people won't wait for the other shoe if they don't know (or care) how the pattern works.
Final Thoughts
  • JB - If you build something up for a long time, people expect a big payoff

Image: Michelle Meiklejohn /

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