Mindee Arnett

Building Suspense, the art of emergence

So this past Saturday I had the lovely fortune to present a workshop on suspense at the Wayne College Writers Workshop. I had an absolute blast with the class. The participants were attentive and eager and all things wonderful.

Anyhow, the materials I presented seemed to go over pretty well, and I thought I’d share a little bit of it here. Cheesy at it sounds, I created an acronym out of SUSPENSE. And while I won’t go through all of them here—some of them are fairly obvious (the first S = Sympathetic Characters)—I did want to share my favorite “letter” of the acronym, the final “E.”

In the workshop, the final E = Emergent. Here’s what the slides looked like:

–Definition: arising as a natural or logical consequence.
•As much as possible, the events in the story should emerge from what happened before; they should be consequential.
•Avoid the “and then” problem (as described by the creators of South Park on mtvu.com).
–Definition of the “And Then” problem:
•If you draw a flowchart of the events in your story and find yourself using “and then” to connect them, you have a problem.
•Instead, your connectors should be “therefore” or “but.”
Here’s an example of how this works in an actual story:
I know this is pretty simple, but it’s also super duper important. If you want to have any kind of suspense in your story, if you want a carefully plotted and tightly woven story in general, then you’ve got to employ this emergence technique. Not doing this in a story is one my all-time biggest pet peeves. I recommend to the participants that if they aren’t sure if they were employing emergence, they should map out their stories in flow chart format like that above. I’ll go ahead and recommend the same to you.
Happy Writing!
Filed under: Writing Tips
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