Saturday, January 19, 2013

Show the bomb - writing with tension

I like the idea of combining my weekly blog with my WIP update. It worked out well last week. Also, I found this wonderful social media advice thing that said you should always post after 4pm, and Saturdays are great days to post, so here I am, moving my weekly posts to Saturday evening. Lemming, party of 1, er, 300,000. ;) JK, it was good advice from a solid source, so I'm taking it.

On to story tension

There's a quote out there by the "master of suspense," Alfred Hitchcock. Since it's been said quite often, I'm going to paraphrase. Basically, he says, if you show two people sitting at a table for 10 minutes, then a bomb goes off, you have a moment of surprise. If you show the bomb, then the people talking for 10 minutes, you have 10 minutes of nail-biting suspense.

This is a choice every writer makes, to tell or not to tell. It can change the dynamic of an entire book. It's an important decision that probably changes from story to story with most authors. On the whole, I tend to show the really important stuff, but I carefully consider how much to tell the reader in each book, and when I choose to tell, it's for a very good reason.

I've been thinking about this advice a lot lately as I contemplate the beginning of my newest story, tentatively titled Masquerading Through Hellfire. There is a bit of info about the heroine I can reveal right away or hold on to for a while.
Charles Barilleaux
Here are the two major effects of showing the bomb versus not.

The suspense

If I reveal her secret, it will let the reader in on some funny jokes and make the suspense stronger. It will also prevent the reader from possibly disliking the heroine because they don't understand some of her behaviors. Finally, it shows the full extent of the conflict between the hero and heroine right up front, and while there are still some secrets about why he feels the way he does, the consequences of his discovering her secrets become obvious. 

The surprise

If I don't reveal it until her hero discovers it, the reader will have a gasp of surprise, followed by several pleasant chuckles. When they consider the story in retrospect.

I'll probably end up going for suspense, because I gain a lot (and only lose a little) by showing her secret. I'm going to try writing it with the new beginning and see what I think.

So what do you think? Are you a show the bomb kid of writer, a mystery kind of writer, or does it depend on the book? What about readers? Do you prefer to be surprised, or have the suspense of knowing something the characters don't?

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