Monday, May 14, 2012
Boo! I Scared You. (Surprise verses Suspense)
Simply stated, startled is a reaction to an event, scared (fear) is an emotion born of anticipation. In writing, we look at this as the difference between surprise and suspense.
There is an oft quoted explanation given by the master of suspense, Sir Alfred Hitchcock, that says if two people are sitting at a table having a conversation and a bomb goes off, that’s surprise; but if they’re sitting there having that conversation and the audience/reader knows there’s a bomb under the table set to detonate in a few minutes, that’s suspense.
But they are not mutually exclusive. Mysteries tend to be more about surprise. An intellectual puzzle with the reader learning the clues along with the characters. But add in an element of danger, something we know will happened if our hero can’t solve the crime – now our emotions are engaged as well. The same is true in reverse. After our hero has taken that long walk through a dark alley (where we know the villain lies in wait)—drawing our nerves taut with anticipation—there has to be that unexpected event or action that breaks the tension and allows our hero to prevail. The surprise.
So while your story may be a mystery or it may be a suspense/thriller, the telling of the story still needs at least a little of each.
And if I hear a strange noise in the basement, and nervously tiptoe down the stairs, wondering what it could be, and just as I reach the bottom someone jumps out and yells BOO!… Okay, kids, you got me. Now let’s talk about cardiac arrest.
How about you? Do you like/write a little suspense in your mysteries? A little surprise in your suspense?
Groaner of the Day: A software engineer tests new programs by seeing if it's simple enough for his computer-challenged brother to use.
This is known as the "Brother-can-use paradigm".
(Betcha had to say it out loud.)