Tension, Suspense, and Craft-of-Writing Books

In today’s Journal

* Quotes of the Day
* A Bit More on Tension and Suspense
* On Craft-of-Writing Books
* Of Interest
* The Numbers

Quotes of the Day

“creativity is always a surprise. Nobody can just learn it and stop like nobody can learn fun and stop having fun.” Rikki Mongoose (pseudonym)

“Spielberg had trouble with the mechanical shark, and it forced him to limit its time onscreen. Rather than being a detriment to the film, the absence of the shark made everything more ominous and terrifying. What you don’t see can sometimes influence the story more than what you do see.” J. Kevin Tumlinson (see “The Unseen Speaks Volumes” in Of Interest)

“For God’s sake, it’s only a story. We’re not curing cancer here, we’re making stuff up and playing with our imaginary friends.” John Gilstrap (see “Writer’s Guilt” in Of Interest)

“Always do your very best. Even when no one else is looking, you always are. Don’t disappoint yourself.” Colin Powell

A Bit More on Tension and Suspense

Awhile back I wrote about pacing, an absolutely essential element of supsense.

And in yet another article, I wrote about pulling readers into your story and holding them there. In that one, I mentioned openings, pacing again (I fhink) and hooks and cliffhangers.

This topic is about one kind of cliffhanger or hook, or rather how the cliffhanger or hook is delivered.

Remember, the hook and the opening are two different things. The hook propels the reader to read the opening, in which you pull the reader deep into the scene via description of the setting through the POV character’s physical and emotional senses.

My novels are divided into chapters, and many of the chapters are divided into sections separated with a trio of asterisks centered on their own line between the two sections.

I’ve developed the habit of inserting tension and suspense at the end of not only every chapter but every section too. Especially leading into and during action scenes.

Most often, I do that with the last sentence (or sentence fragment) of the secton or chapter. It’s usually a terse, short (and therefore dramatic) sentence,. To add further tension, it’s most often set off in its own paragraph.

That final sentence always begs resolution. And the only way for readers to resolve it is to move on to the next section or chapter —

Where a hook awaits.

That hook is also often a short, terse sentence that propels readers into the rest of the paragraph and the next and the next.

The cliffhanger. It makes my readers want to know what happens next and how the cliffhanger is resolved. That propels them into reading the hook in the next section or chapter, and that drives them through the section or chapter to the next cliffhanger.

Whenever I can, I also use a short, terse sentence to end a paragraph or two even in the body of a section or chapter. Unless you do it at the end of pretty much every paragraph, the technique goes unnoticed by the reader and never gets old.

Like shorter sentences, shorter paragraphs also drive tension and suspense.

As PJ Parrish notes in her article (first item in Of Interest) a reader will read more quickly through a section that even includes MORE WORDS if they are presented in FEWER PARAGRAPHS, especially if those paragraphs separate-out dialogue from narrative.

In place of a final or opening sentence, you can use a sentence fragment. Like this one. Or like this one or “Especially leading into and during action scenes” or “Where a hook awaits” above.

Any questions, email me at harveystanbrough@gmail.com. I’m happy to oblige.

On Craft-of-Writing Books

There are many MANY craft-of-writing books available. I’ve written sixteen or so myself.

But like I said, there are tons of them out there. With the exception of mine and Dean Wesley Smith’s, they all say pretty much the same things, and most of them either spout the myths or expect you to already be following the myths.

Of course, you don’t follow the myths or you wouldn’t be reading this, right? (grin) But you can still learn from those books. Here’s my advice:

If the book is centered on a myth (e.g., how to outline or how to revise, etc.) skip it. Save your money. If you buy it and then set aside what isn’t myth, you’ll set aside the whole book and will have wasted your moolah.

If the book is centered on any part of the actual craft of writing — characters, setting, scene, structure, world-building, openings, hooks and cliffhangers, pacing and so on — buy it. But only if

  1. The author has also written at least 10 novels and/or at least fifty or so short stories, and
  2. You “feel good” in your spidey senses about it

If the author hasn’t written a lot of fiction, what can s/he possibly teach you about writing fiction?

And if the book doesn’t make your spidey senses tingle, don’t buy it.

After you buy one or more craft books, ignore all the talk in the book about the myths. Just let your eyes glaze over and skip the parts about outlining, plotting, revising, seeking input from others (including critique groups) rewriting and anything about agents and traditional publishers.

If you do that, you should be able to glean some good information from those books without buying into all the myth crap.

You can find my writing books at StoneThread Publishing. But this is not a hard sell.

Some of them are free at either the Journal website at HEStanbrough.com or on my author site over at HarveyStanbrough.com.

In fact, here are a few freebies right now. Clicking any link below will download a free PDF directly to your computer:

Writing Great Beginnings

Top 7 Mistakes Writers Make (aside from following the myths)

The Essentials of Digital Publishing

Quick Guide to Self-Publishing & FAQs (more of a pamphlet than a book)

Okay, the last two are about publishing, not writing. They’re also a little outdated, but they still hold up.

Among my own craft titles that are currently not free, I most strongly recommend

Writing the Character-Driven Story

Poetry Techniques for the Fictionist

If you’re still struggling with critical voice, getting it to shut up and leave you alone as you write, I also recommend

Quiet the Critical Voice (and Write Fiction)

And of course, any of my donors can get any of my nonfiction books in .mobi, .epub, or .pdf free of charge. Just email me.

I also recommend most of Dean Wesley Smiths WMG Writers Guides. You can find those at WMG Publishing.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

The Most Potent Little Gadget In Your Writer’s Toolbox I apologize for having omitted the link to this article yesterday. So here’s the listing again. The article is all about the importance of paragraphing.

The Unseen Speaks Volumes

Writer’s Guilt An excellent post

1000 Dedicated Buyers? No. The Real Number is…

The Numbers

The Journal……………………………… 1160

Writing of Blackwell Ops 12: Nick Soldata (novel)

Day 1…… 3683 words. To date…… 3683
Day 2…… 3186 words. To date…… 6869
Day 3…… 3315 words. To date…… 10184
Day 4…… 3260 words. To date…… 13444
Day 5…… 3175 words. To date…… 16619
Day 6…… 3649 words. To date…… 20268

Fiction for October…………………… 52308
Fiction for 2023………………………… 269850
Fiction since August 1………………… 155303
Nonfiction for October……………… 16340
Nonfiction for the year……………… 214680
Annual consumable words………… 484470

2023 Novels to Date……………………… 5
2023 Novellas to Date…………………… 0
2023 Short Stories to Date……………… 6
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………… 76
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)…………… 9
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)…… 234
Short story collections…………………… 31

Disclaimer: I am a prolific professional fiction writer. On this blog I teach Writing Into the Dark and adherence to Heinlein’s Rules. Unreasoning fear and the myths of writing will slow your progress as a writer or stop you cold. I will never teach the myths on this blog.

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