Friday, February 4, 2011

Creating and maintaining suspense

The comment I was leaving on the lede-writing post started to become more about creating suspense and less about writing a lede, so I figured I ought to cut it off and make my first post about it—embarrassingly months after Jordan first asked if I wanted to contribute. Sorry I've procrastinated, buddy.

So, to the issue at hand. I dug up some old college notes from Mark Kramer (curator/author of "Telling True Stories"), and he had this to say about pacing:

· Pace is a reader’s urge to continue.

· Determinants of pace

o The emotional valence of the topic

§ Topic w/ highest emotional valence is: Kid In Danger. Don’t have to characterize anything for all of our alarms to go off.

§ If I am writing a story about a surgeon in the operating room, and suddenly—the scalpel slips! It cuts a major artery and the patient is bleeding to death. Then a pause. You can then go on for a while about the history scalpels, and the reader will still stay with you.

§ However, they won’t stick with you if you leave a Russian nobleman walking in a field to talk about the history of Russian plows.

o If you have high occurrences of the verb “to be”, your writing will suffer

§ But if your description is lucid and lively and vivid, then they might stick with Boris in the field, and they may even run away from the surgeon (TMI).

Of course, that just scratches the surface, but I thought it'd be a nice brain stimulant on the issue. Anyone else thinking about pace lately?

Quick note, for those of you who don't me: I graduated in aught-10 from the Magazine sequence. After a summer at a lively city newspaper in Mississippi, and midterm political coverage at the KC Star, I jumped head-first into the world of freelancing. I'm living and pitching in Chicago now, and I just got my first assignment for RedEye, which is the Chi equivalent of Ink, Vox, etc. Slowly but surely, you know. To those who do know me, good to see you again.

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