Last week's review had an interesting continuation of the discussion of suspense versus tension contributed by D.B. Bates:
Tension and suspense are often viewed as synonyms, but I don't see them as that. Suspense is one of many forms of tension, used to propel a reader forward. If tension is about the unknown, then what makes suspense unique? Why isn't it just a synonym?
Suspense is about what's known to the reader, but not the characters. In Alfred Hitchcock's famous bomb-under-the-table analogy, what makes the scene suspenseful is the fact that the audience knows the bomb is there, but the characters in the scene don't. Suspense interacts with readers' engagement and imagination by giving us a cheat sheet that the characters don't have. We're asking, "How are they going to get out of a jam they don't even know they're in?"
The questions we ask in a suspenseful scene do rely on what we don't know (that's how it creates tension), but we're only asking the questions because of what we do know. If we didn't know about the bomb, we'd simply be asking why these two characters met at a restaurant for polite chitchat.
Other forms of tension are created by giving us less information than the characters have, not more. What keeps us reading is a desire to catch up with what the characters already know. Suspense creates tension in the opposite way, and it engages readers' imaginations in a different way
I like this assessment very much. One thing I want to emphasize here though is that I don't think there is a right or wrong answer. The only thing that matters when we talk about the difference between suspense and tension is "Is this useful in making me a better writer." Much of what I yammer on about here on the blog takes on the allure of The Right Way, but in all honesty, the measure of whether this blog is something to pay attention to is whether it helps you become a better writer.
Of course I hope it does, but if it doesn't, it's not cause you're stupid or doing it "wrong." Everyone learns and improves in their own way. If this doesn't work for you, try something else. You're not an idiot, and I am not omnipotent.
On Monday the flash fiction contest for Death of a Redheaded Woman were announced. Commenters agreed Andrew Lipkin had a really terrific entry. I thought it was one of the best I've ever seen. At some point I've got to figure out a use for these gems. Over the years, there have been some entries and winners that simply knocked my sox off.
On Tuesday the post about "dream agents" elicited a really interesting insight from CarolynnWith2ns. Her comment that a "dream agent" doesn't' necessarily have to be YOUR agent was the first time I'd really considered that the online community of this blog and other agent blogs allows authors to have some of the "agent experience" without actual representation. All in all, I think that's a good thing, but I need to think about this further.
And if you need a good illustration of the reason I discourage writers from even thinking about "dream agents" take a look at Julie Weathers' comment there at 9:32am.
If you don't have time to read Julie's story, Jenz summed it up perfectly:
Ryan Gosling is my dream guy. I just know if I could meet him, he'd fall in love with me. We'd be the most perfect couple in the history of loving couples and have beautiful babies.
And Colin Smith, picking up the thread of potential clients getting The Call, only to hang up thinking it's a joke: no, this has never happened to me, but I believe it's cause Caller ID always displays "QOTKU" when I ring.
On Wednesday the topic of agent/author communication came up again. Julie Weathers had a VERY interesting comment based on her previous experience: "An agent who has time to chat you up three or four times a week or more has more time on their hands than is healthy."
I hadn't ever really thought about that before. Honestly, I LOVE talking to my clients. I'd do it all day, every day if I could, but I'd soon run out of things to say if I wasn't actually working on getting their stuff out to editors. Or following up on getting them paid. Or the million other things that I do for them. Hammering out ideas is all well and good, but somebody has to auditing the royalty statements.
On Thursday we return to the subject of querying, with the question of whether it's ok to write a query using two points of view. I loved John "Ol' Chumbucket" Bau
Colin Smith mentioned an ad to illustrate his point that a query that's memorable for something OTHER than the novel it's about isn't an effective query. Julie Weathers also loved that ad, so I had to look it up and watch. (That's one of my favorite things about this blog--looking at the stuff y'all tell me about!)
And Michael Seese gets to sit over in the corner with my favorite grammar-slinger John McIntyre of the Baltimore Sun for this one: "Technically, shouldn't the plural of POV be PsOV?"
One of the benefits of checking his blog to make sure I spell his name right is discovering Mr. McIntyre has a cat named Saunders.
Friday and Saturday were taken up with the flash fiction contest. The only downside to those contests is that I really miss the blog post comments on those days. Friday particularly since it's essentially radio silence on the blog.
Of course, there's always fun over on the Facebook page even if the blog is quiet. This week I got in pictures of Sean Ferrell's picture book at the publisher's ALA booth:
And once again, the topic turns to painting! Gossamer makes his opinion known about the vacuum, but check out the paint colors in his house!
And of course, when I got the ARCs of SIGNAL I posted a photo and commenters promptly requested a contest! Which brings us full circle back to today when the contest closes at 10am, and the next week begins!
Have a great week despite this miserable cold weather. I hope you've got great stuff to read!