Number 31 — April 29, 2005
Authorial Comment And Internalization

·  Previous  ·  INDEX  ·  Next  ·

Here is a brief scene that combines internalization and authorial comment to show a GOAL—Gino wants forgiveness—resulting in internal CONFLICT that he resolves when he hasn't the courage to console his mother and walks out.

     [AUTHORIAL COMENT] Gino stepped back, unprepared to face his father when the old man answered the door. Walking from Mrs. Stefanos' house, he'd rehearsed a greeting for his mother, but the sight of his father in the doorway exuding strength in the way of a man who has done physical labor all his life stifled his voice. [NTERNALIZATION = WHAT GINO THINKS] Mr. Messino didn't look the same as two years ago when Gino walked out of his life. He was still large, but more round-shouldered, stern-faced with leathery skin, suggesting some kind of illness. [AUTHORIAL COMENT] They stared at each other, Mr. Messino blocking the door, Gino looking up at him from the walk. His father began with one word.
     "I've come to visit my mother. Will you let me come in?" [STATES GOAL]
     [ACTION] Mr. Messino did not move. His fists clenched and the muscles on his bare forearms were taut. His stare was hard and penetrating, invoking a spasm of fear and thoughts of escape. Gino stepped back a pace. At last, his father spoke.
     "Go! But, you'll speak to me first."
     [AUTHORIAL COMMENT] Gino understood he'd been denied entry to the house. A grimace contorted the edges of his mouth, but the command to speak kept him rooted to the spot. [INTERNALIZATION]. Childhood fear of his father's autocratic orders surged through his body. Gino was going on twenty-one years old, and he still didn't know how to react to this tyrannical despot. [ACTION] He took a deep breath, summoned his defiance, and guessed.
     "I'd like to talk to my mother, please." [RESTATES GOAL]
     [ACTION] Mr. Messino stepped out on the porch, nodded his head for Gino to enter, and strode along the walk to the road without looking back. He turned in the direction of Stefanos' and Gino walked in.
     [HUMAN SENSES—WHAT GINO SEES] She sat motionless in the front room, tears trickling down her face, and hands hanging limply by her sides. She was ancient with straight, uncombed gray hair, wrinkled skin, and no color, looking like a cadaver. Gino was afraid to touch her; afraid she might dismember before his eyes. He remembered a sturdy energetic woman, but this one looked frail and very sick.
     "It was wrong what you did, son."
     [INTERNALIZATION & INTERNAL CONFLICT] Gino felt a constriction in his throat. He would have preferred ranting and screaming. He could have stood that kind of greeting. But this plaintiff little chastisement in a voice he could hardly hear was more devastating than any rebuke ever laid on him. He felt his eyes water and he didn't know what to do. If he wiped them she would know; if he didn't she would see. He lowered his head unable to continue looking in her eyes; those soft gray, weeping eyes deep in the face of an aged woman whose heart he had broken. He was too late to repair the damage he'd done. He had to decide. He raised his head, looked at her again, and made his choice.
     [ACTION & RESOLUTION] "I'm sorry," he said. "I am honestly sorry. I hope you can forgive me." He turned and walked out.

     Note how the writing formats are intertwined. Sometimes, authorial comment and internalization are essentially indistinguishable or blurred, nonetheless, the piece ends with action and resolution.

·  Previous  ·  INDEX  ·  Next  ·


Number 32 — May 6, 2005
Adverbs — Part 1

·  Previous  ·  INDEX  ·  Next  ·

I come to my favorite topic; adverbs. A word ending in ly may signal missing action that hides an emotional state. If this is the case, replace the adverb with an image that brings the action or emotion out of hiding. In the next few weeks, I intend to give you some examples in which adverbs have failed to do the job the author intended.
     Before my remarks are construed as a universal condemnation of adverbs, I want to be clear. I am not saying, "Don't use adverbs." I am saying, when revising your work before releasing to wherever it is going, look at the words ending in "ly" to check if a more descriptive sentence or two would deliver a better image. More often than not, adverbs may conceal something from the reader. Here is my first example.

     Edith backed carefully out of the garage.

     The adverb in this sentence contributes little. It could be omitted and the sentence would deliver essentially the same message. Edith backed out of the garage. The inference in both sentences is identical; Edith left the garage without incident. Whether she did it carefully or not is irrelevant in that adding the adverb does not add an image for the reader. Every reader knows what it means to back out of a garage. We have all done it, presumably carefully enough to avoid a mishap. Does the reader need to be told Edith did it carefully? I don't think so. What we could do instead is to consider Edith's actions backing out of the garage. These might reveal something about her that will create an image. Let's try.

     Edith looked first over her right shoulder, and then over her left as if the garage door had shrunk since the last time she drove. Twice she got out of the car; once to survey the driveway for wayward objects, and once to make sure the right side of the car was clear of the doorjamb.

     Here we see Edith exercising extreme care, but what else do we see that was absent from the initial sentence? Here is a cautious person who may or may not be terrified when she drives, but it is plain she doesn't like to drive if she takes such elaborate precautions to get out of the garage, never mind entering the traffic stream. In other words, by considering the word carefully as hiding something, then when we describe what's in the cache by either actions or emotion, we show something of Edith's character, or her state of mind. Let's change our sentence a little.

     Edith glanced over her shoulder, slammed the gearshift in reverse, and backed out with the tires squealing.

     The care Edith exercised in this case was limited to glancing over her shoulder. But, her state of mind is completely different than inferred from the previous sentence. The use of the adverb carefully to describe how Edith backed out of the garage failed. By exposing Edith's actions in detail, she is either timid and cautious, or aggressive and angry. Ah! That's the stuff of creative writing.

·  Previous  ·  INDEX  ·  Next  ·


Number 33 — May 13, 2005
Adverbs — Part 2

·  Previous  ·  INDEX  ·  Next  ·

I continue my attack on adverbs. Consider this sentence:

     We moved smoothly and beautifully together as if we had danced together before.

     This is a poor sentence for two reasons. The first is word repetition: The word together appears twice. Even one use is redundant because if they danced, they obviously did it together. The second fault is the nondescript adverbs that contribute at best a weak image.
     For discussion purposes, let's assume the narrator is a woman. The context tells us this is the first time she danced with this partner. The core meaning (subject and predicate) of the sentence is:
     We danced for the first time.
     Now, the problem is to put back the author's original intent. I do this by considering what might have been. Many writing instructors call these "Whatifs."

  1. Whatif she had refused to dance with him?
  2. Whatif she feels comfortable in his arms and hopes the dance will never end?
  3. Whatif he starts whirling her around the floor in a manner she's never experienced before?
  4. Whatif she's always dreaded whirling around the floor and discovers this partner makes it thrilling?
  5. Whatif the music changes and the dance becomes a waltz?
  6. Whatif she closes her eyes and imagines floating on a cloud high in the sky?
  7. Whatif the song is her favorite? Is it his song, too?
  8. Whatif the song is new; a tune she never heard before, but will never forget?
  9. Whatif he plucks a white gardenia from the floral display and puts it in her hair?

     My list of whatifs is not created by magic. Ask four people to write ten questions on any topic—say dancing with a new partner for the first time—and you'll get forty different questions. Next, ask each of the four to write a 100-word article, without adverbs, about the emotional experience involved by drawing from their whatif questions. You'll get four different articles. One article may be better writing than the others, but that will be because of the author's skill, but none will be right and none will be wrong. The result will be that each author converts the awkward thirteen-word sentence at the beginning of this article into their description of the emotional experience of falling in love on a dance floor. This is an example of searching for emotion or action that may be hidden behind an adverb.
     Converting a nondescript sentence to an emotion-packed paragraph is what creative writing is about. Sometimes, it takes a while; at other times the words flow off the end of your pencil with no thought at all. All writers experience exhilarating moments and depressing blocks. Last week, while preparing a newspaper article, I could not write the second of four parts. My solution was to move to the last two sections. I wrote them in about two hours; same story, but different context. I was able to return to the problem part the next day and complete my article. Why? I don't know. Maybe by knowing the ending, I discovered how to reach it.

·  Previous  ·  INDEX  ·  Next  ·


Number 34 — May 20, 2005
Adverbs — Part 3

·  Previous  ·  INDEX  ·  Next  ·

I will end my dissertation on "ly" words in this article. Here is yet another example:

     But this absolutely floored me.

     A word ending in "ly" combined with a colloquialism that does not deliver an image. We could write the sentence without the word absolutely and deliver the same impact. (But this floored me.) The meaning of the statement is not in doubt, but it is an expression that does not do justice to storytelling because it does not deliver an image. Is something hidden here? Was the speaker astounded? Astonished? Surprised? Happy? Or, lying on the floor unconscious?
     A final example:

     Friends and family at the party were equally impressed.

     What did the author mean and how could she testify to the equality of the friends' and family's impressions? Why did she write the sentence in the passive voice setting the focus on the friends and family? The word equally is unnecessary and out of place. It would have been enough to write; "Friends and family at the party were impressed." (Still passive.) Or, if sharing the reaction is important to the context of the scene, then expand the image, put the focus on the reaction, and write in the active voice.

     Mouths hung open beneath unblinking eyes while the magician enjoyed the stunning reaction his trick evoked.

     Again, create an image; show your reader a picture. I repeat my earlier caveat; I do not claim you should erase adverbs from your vocabulary. Sometimes an adverb is perfect for the idea you want to express. When that arises, use the adverb, but challenge it first. Look behind it, around it, and through it to make sure it does not mask something your reader should see. Make a note of the hidden emotion and revise your work to bring that emotion to the forefront so readers have no difficulty understanding the scene you are trying to show them.
     My last comment relates to the oft-quoted advice to "write as you talk," which I suggest you use with caution. I have spent the last few weeks revising and editing my own work. I'm not aware of my speech pattern as I talk, but when I see some of my habits in writing, I'm ashamed. I have a tendency to insert adverbial qualifiers that may provide emphasis when I speak because of voice inflection, which is not present in writing and therefore the qualifiers fail when used in prose. In a moment of frustration, I might say, "I simply cannot get it right." The underline stresses my voice inflection, but in print, "I cannot get it right," delivers the same message. For the reader to visual my frustration, I must insert my emotional state. For instance:

     Stephen threw his workbook across the room. He rested his head in his right hand, closed his eyes, and tried to ease the tenseness in his shoulders. 'I cannot get it right,' he said.

     The word simply is no longer needed since it contributes nothing to the emotion in the scene.


     Good writing omits tautology (needless repetition of the same sense in different words), verbosity (wordiness) and redundancy (needless repetition). They serve no purpose except to fill space. Search for clear imagery instead.

·  Previous  ·  INDEX  ·  Next  ·


Number 35 — May 27, 2005
An Exercise in Freewriting

·  Previous  ·  INDEX  ·  Next  ·

I signed up for a six week creative writing class. The instructor asked why I joined since I have six published books. I said to broaden my horizons. Indeed, at the lecture last night, I did. She came up with a writing exercise I had never seen before. Instead of doing crossword puzzles or cryptograms, try this: Ask someone to select a picture at random from anywhere—magazine, newspaper, book. Then write the story you see in the picture from different perspectives. Use a freewriting technique and try to complete at least five different perspectives in a limited time. The class had fifteen minutes last night.
     After setting the rules, the instructor dealt out pictures at random. Mine was a Christmas scene in a home with a wide divan in front of a bay window. Model trains consisting of two engines and two open coal carriers, all of different sizes, sit on the wide window sill. A young boy knells on the divan, playing with an engine. Various Christmas decorations adorn the surrounding tables and mantel.
     Here are my five unedited perspectives exactly as I wrote them in class.

  • MOTHER: My husband insists I put those awful toy trains out every year. For reasons that escape me, males cannot resist them. Every day when Jimmy comes home, he climbs on the divan, and pushes the big engine around. Daddy does the same, always leaving the big engine behind the flowers. One day, somebody will knock over the flower plant and I'll have to clean up the mess.
  • FATHER: Why does she put the trains on the sill at the bay window where I have to climb on the divan to reach them. The large locomotive is out of scale. They'd look better if the big fellow wasn't there. Most every night, I put it behind the flower plant. The next day, she puts it back in the center. I wonder why?
  • JIMMY (8 ):Gee, that's neat. I like those big red wheels on the big engine. When I took it outside to play, Mum got really mad.
  • GEORGE (14): It's hard to remember, exactly. Three years ago, I think, I gave Mum the old-fashioned engine with the flared smokestack. She looked surprised when she opened it, but I guess I did okay because every year she puts it on the window sill away from that big old ugly thing with the red wheels.
  • BARB (12): I don't understand what dumb trains have to do with Christmas. Shirley thinks I should leave home. I told Mum. She says trains belong in a man's world. That's crazy. I guess that's the difference between her generation and mine.

     Try it when you have a few minutes on your hands: riding the bus to work; idling in the Laundromat; waiting for the roast; having lunch alone; sitting out the inevitable delay in your doctor's schedule. Numerous occasions exist in our daily routine with a few minutes to fill. This exercise stimulates your mind, exercises your imagination, and makes time pass quickly. Try it—might be fun. No. I'll assert it is fun.

·  Previous  ·  INDEX  ·  Next  ·


Number 36 — June 3, 2005
How I Came To Write — Part 1

·  Previous  ·  INDEX  ·  Next  ·

On Christmas Eve 1998, I submitted my first e-zine article. The thought of writing for the Internet intimidated me. Nonetheless, I persevered and mailed my first completed manuscript to a publisher a year later. The achievement was not what you might suppose; I paid to have it printed. Yes, against the advice of every person I consulted, I elected to self-publish. This is my story.
     Ten years ago, shortly after my seventieth birthday, I read a woefully bad novel. I boasted I could write a better book. Foolish of me at my age; I should never brag about what I can do, especially to my wife. I accepted her challenge and wrote a story. A brilliant piece, I thought. Kinko ran a few copies for a modest fee. While I waited for the comments from my readers, I wavered between buying a new suit for the Pulitzer Prize Awards, or growing a beard, letting my hair grow, and arriving in an orange turtleneck, blue jeans, and inflated sneakers. The first review came from my eldest son, a scholarly PhD, who called it a shaggy-dog story. My daughter announced difficulty getting past chapter two. My other children thought it a joke and did not bother to comment. A dear friend in Knowlton, Quebec suggested I continue my carpentry business. Only my sister, a writer living in Edmonton, sent words of encouragement.
     "Well," she wrote, "everybody has to start somewhere."
     Not easily discouraged, I gave up golf and woodworking to embark on an educational experience. I bought books and computer programs, attended conferences and creative writing courses, joined a writer's group, and worked at the craft eight hours everyday. I found a mild degree of encouragement among the heaps of ridicule. The first conference I attended invited five-page submissions for comments by the featured author for the modest fee of ten dollars. My effort came back looking like a chicken walked over it with dirty feet. Hardly a line escaped his vicious pencil, yet penned on the back was a short note.
     "Critiquing is life-threatening," he wrote, "but you have some talent. I suggest you continue."
     The second conference I attended took place in Kansas City. The program offered to critique three chapters of manuscript for forty dollars. This evaluator had nothing good to say about my work. A less dedicated soul would have had the wisdom to quit. Alas, I lacked such intelligence and struggled on day after day.
     I started a fresh story. My wife was critical of my fetish for delving into the Thesaurus seeking the longest multi-syllabic adjectives I could find. I tried simple words and read to my writer's group. To my amazement, they enjoyed it. Some even hinted my work held some merit. Three years after I started this foolish endeavor, I completed a book of 90,000 words. A friend in Oklahoma encouraged me to query publishers. I sent eight letters and received eight rejections. When I announced to my writing friends that I would submit no more, they scoffed at my lack of persistence. I discovered writers pride themselves on the vast number of rejections they collect. At my age, I didn't have time for such nonsense. In retrospect that was a mistake. I caution everyone not to jump into self-publishing too fast.
     I believe success as a writer comes from two sources; getting articles and opinions published in magazines and newspapers; and from repeated revising and editing of longer work. The major error made in self-publishing is going too fast.

·  Previous  ·  INDEX  ·  Next  ·


Number 37 — June 10, 2005
How I Came To Write — Part 2

·  Previous  ·  INDEX  ·  Next  ·

When my first book arrived, I delved into marketing, an enterprise I had never done in my life. Have I succeeded? Don't be silly. Have I enjoyed it? Absolutely. Writing carried me to arenas I would never otherwise have entered. As a volunteer in 1999, I taught fifth grade storytelling and writing in a local school. In the spring of 2000, another school asked me to supervise eighth grade preparation for National History Day. During that summer, I was a guest instructor at "KidsWrite 2000" at the University of Arkansas. I speak at bookstores, clubs, and associations. Once in a while I sell a book.
     I have self-published three novels. The first, The Naked Jaybird, (1999) is a story of international intrigue set in Toronto, Vancouver, Taiwan and United States. The thrust of the terrorist tale is Americans need not worry about atomic bombs and star war missiles. Our major concern, whether we choose to recognize it or not, is the environment. It's a true fact in Walkerton, Ontario, seven people died a few years ago because of municipal polluted drinking water. A similar event could happen in the US where waste from huge animal farms infiltrates aquifers. The book does not preach. It presents a possible scenario. Of course, the young inspector solves the problem before disaster strikes.
     My second book, Bent Coin, starts with the Chicago fire of 1871. A young man comes to Chicago and makes a fortune in construction and real estate. His wife drowns when their daughter is four. Worried about atavism—the jumping of genetic characters over a generation or two—he raises his daughter to be a businesswoman and to avoid love and marriage. He drops dead with no warning. A year later, unaccustomed to male companionship, she marries a trucking contractor who feigns love in his search for wealth. Their child has oriental features stemmed from an unknown ancestor. The boy becomes the excuse for divorce. The ex-husband, feeling cheated, plans revenge that destroys both him and his former wife. The story carries a hidden message. The affinity between the protagonist, a wealthy businesswoman, and a secondary character, an underworld mafia character, suggests two people existing in different worlds can develop respect for each other that becomes pivotal in their lives.
     I self-published my third book, Lost River Bridge, in April, 2001. A Canadian comes home from the war in 1946. To calm his nerves, he visits his relations in southwest Missouri. After two months, he returns to Canada rejuvenated; ready to continue his life. Forty-two years later, he revisits the same Ozark community. The bridge is in disrepair, the school closed, and gray heads in rocking chairs wait to die. It is a humorous tale of an Ozark Mountain community that received creditable reviews.
     Lost River Bridge will put me on the New York Times best-seller list. Sales needed to make the list are a mere one million copies. I calculated my sales a few days ago. At the present rate, I'll be on the list in 6,666 months and twenty days. If that sounds like a big number, think of it in years; only 555 years, six months and twenty days. If you add my 80 years, I will be on the best-seller list 264 years, five months and eleven days before Methuselah grew old and gave up.
     (Post script: Looking back in 2006. my biggest error was printing too many copies. I put a lot of books in the trash when I closed my business.)

·  Previous  ·  INDEX  ·  Next  ·


Number 38 — June 17, 2005
How I Came To Write — Part 3

·  Previous  ·  INDEX  ·  Next  ·

My best-selling occurred at a bookstore in Branson, Missouri. The owners allowed writers to set up a table either inside or outside the store. Beginning in June, 2001, I chose outside where tour buses unloaded. I worked the crowds from ten in the morning to three in the afternoon, occasionally on both Saturday and Sunday, but more often, only on Sunday. Branson is a two-hour drive from home, which made a long day. Over the summer, I sold 535 books. It's a tough way to earn money.
     Gradually, I developed a spiel to attract customers. My best pitch concerned my lifetime career in the construction industry with no writing experience. The most frequent response requested an explanation of how I became a writer. From there, I began speaking to seniors about writing as a retirement hobby, which led to publishing Creative Writing for Seniors in 2002. Without warning, my career stopped with a diagnosis of colon cancer that took me out of circulation for six months. It was a devastating blow that depleted my energy and cut short my traveling. During my recovery, I worked on a book called Creative Writing Workshop and gave a few lectures at local public libraries.
     Much to my surprise, the lectures met with instantaneous success. I arranged a mini-tour through northwest Arkansas and southwest Missouri giving free four-hour workshops at public libraries. As I got farther from home, I found the long drives exhausting and my advancing years didn't ease the problem.
     Meanwhile, I had been writing weekly articles on creative writing for the Gravette News Herald. The editor allowed me to shift to writing a serial in the fashion of the serials that old-time magazines used to publish, and maybe still do for all I know. The story I chose was a sequel to Lost River Bridge. This week, I will submit my seventy-second column in the story; my one hundred-nineteenth in the series. It has become an exhilarating challenge.
     In September, 2004 Jay Johnson, editor of Banyon Publishing and Self-Publishing Help, asked me to write a weekly column he called the Book Doctor. This week, I submit my thirty-eighth article.
     Finally, I am anxiously awaiting the final galley for my new novel Goad of Honor that Bookman will publish. The scheduled release is the end of July.
     So that's the story of my writing career to which I have two reactions. I am always grateful for an opportunity to help others and I'm amazed by the fact my eighty-first birthday comes up in October.

·  Previous  ·  INDEX  ·  Next  ·


Number 39 — June 24, 2005
Suspense — Part 1

·  Previous  ·  INDEX  ·  Next  ·

This morning on my daily walk, I met a farmer and his wife driving across their field in a pickup truck. They stopped to chat. One of their calves escaped overnight and they were checking the fence lines. I sensed a story and conjured this tale on my way home for breakfast.

     Years ago my Uncle Percy raised a prize calf. It's hard for me to ascribe the word beautiful to a bovine, but indeed this was a rare animal. It had two qualities that set it apart from the herd; it seemed more intelligent and displayed a certain bohemian quality evincing a need for human companionship. At a distance, it could not be distinguished from any other of its kind, but at close range two significant qualities appeared. Its coat was soft, the hairs less wiry, and its eyes were alert as opposed to the usual doleful expression of cattle. With its head titled to one side, it watched visitors open the gate, waiting to greet two-legged trespassers who came to its pasture.
     One morning in May of 1928, Uncle Percy discovered his prize heifer gone. He found it several miles away grazing on the front lawn of the pastor's home, while the good man rocked in his chair, reading the Bible. Percy was irate, first, blaming the pastor, then directing his wrath on the farmhands, and finally, threatening the lives of pranksters should he catch them. Larceny was ruled out; a thief would have made off with the valuable beast. A day or two later, another escape occurred. And later still, a third exodus happened.
     Unrecognized visitors never prowled the congenial farm community. Rambunctious teenagers were not a problem; most worked on their family farms, or went away to school. No explanation could be found, yet in the early morning hours of many a day, the prize calf grazed on the parsonage lawn.

     Now, I stop my story to explain my purpose. In this short 260-word piece, I set up a question in the reader's mind. Whether my writing is a masterpiece of English literature, or a piece of junk, doesn't matter; the reader should still be curious about the explanation. The most important element in a story is suspense. The writer who hangs readers between a question—how did the calf escape—and an answer—through its intelligence; it learned to nudge the gate handle and open the gate—will be successful.

     What do I mean by suspense? Try this. You're on vacation with nothing to do after dinner. You select a well-worn novel from the hotel library. It doesn't look like much, but it's better than the other trash on the shelves. You settle down in an easy chair and begin to read. You look at your watch, it's after midnight with only fifty pages to go. You have to finish the book. Why? It's not well written, uses words incorrectly, punctuation is poor, yet you couldn't put it down. Why?
     Because the author, using clever ploys, trapped you with suspense.

·  Previous  ·  INDEX  ·  Next  ·


Number 40 — July 1, 2005
Suspense — Part 2

·  Previous  ·  INDEX  ·  Next  ·

I continue my deliberations on the subject of suspense. During my study of creative writing, I have come across terms that experts bandy about without defining their meaning. Two such clichés are literary fiction and popular fiction. Curiosity led me to the index of my writing manuals. Not once did I find either term in the alphabetical listings, yet they often appear in written and oral dissertations. About a year ago, I raised the question at a writing conference. It led to an extensive discussion that offered umpteen opinions and no answer. I asked the leader to toss out the garbage and draw some definitive conclusion. This ignited another round of repeating what had already been said. In the end, I inferred the consensus defined literary fiction as character-driven, and popular fiction as plot-driven. Without qualifying plot and character, this was a ridiculous distinction because all works of fiction have both plot and character, some good and some bad. As beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so this group conclusion suggested literary classification would be in the mind of the reader. I was struck by the futility of the debate.
     Despite masquerading pseudonyms, I went in search of some definition of what comprises the best fiction. In this case, I met with some success. Here are the answers distilled from six or seven authoritative books:

  1. A strong opening;
  2. Ever-increasing character development exposed through behavioral gestures, actions, and reactions;
  3. Story events logically connected in a cause-and-effect chain;
  4. Conflicts creating suspense or tension.

     The writing manuals in my library provide extensive advice on these topics except for suspense and tension, which they fail to define or explain. The significant difference between the two is unclear to me. I'll try to explain my reasoning.
     Consider these two extreme stories. In the first, the hero leaps from impending doom to certain death, fights off a horde of sharks, captures the pirate vessel single-handedly, and emerges with his lover in his arms amid a shamble of dead bodies. In the second, a grandmother sits in her rocker on the front porch and tells the story of her children that involves no bloodshed, no gunfire, and no mortal combat. Two tales poles apart, yet each may be a compelling story. Why? Because the success of a story does not depend on the nature of the conflicts, but rather on the degree of suspense or tension the conflicts instill in the reader's mind.
     Now, let's examine the difference between suspense and tension, and how I'm to distinguish between them. My study revealed that an expert, when talking about plot-driven stories, cites creating suspense as in the form of, "How is the hero going to get out of this mess?" On the other hand, when dealing with character-driven stories, experts stress the need to produce emotional tension in the form of, "My gracious!" For all practical purposes, curious anxiety and sympathetic reality are the same.
     So, I surmise as far as my treatment of creative writing goes, the terms suspense and tension are synonymous.

·  Previous  ·  INDEX  ·  Next  ·