Friday, December 02, 2005

Type 1 & Type 2 Suspense

There are two types of suspense:
  • Type 1 Suspense: suspense characterized by reader curiosity (i.e., wonder)
  • Type 2 Suspense: suspense characterized by reader anxiety and apprehension (i.e., worry)
Type 1 Suspense can be created with a few words any time. No reader involvement is necessary. Type 2 Suspense can be created only if the reader is emotionally involved in the story. The reader is then interested as though affected by it. This type of suspense is usually connected to some sympathetic character, so it can hardly be created in the opening before any sympathetic character exists.

Type 2 Suspense racks the reader's strong desire that the hero achieve his goal. For example, we have a strong desire that Hamlet bring Claudius to justice. This is a positive goal. The hero's goal could just as well be negative, because he could just as well be trying to prevent something as accomplish something. Positive goals and desires create positive suspense, and negative goals and desires create negative suspense.

Negative Suspense makes readers hope that something will NOT happen. A good example is Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth. He keeps us on the edges of our seats, hoping that French President Charles de Gaulle won't be assassinated.

This novel is also an example of how powerful suspense can be. Stein writes that, proposed as an outline of the plot, it was turned down by many publishers, including himself, because de Gaulle was already dead (of perfectly natural causes). So they doubted that it could create strong enough suspense to hold the reader. They were wrong.

Fortunately, Forsyth went ahead and wrote the manuscript anyway. True, Type 2 Suspense about the fate of the former French President was impossible after his death (and probably was impossible even before it in de Gaulle's case), and that is what literary fiction — with its emphasis on subtlety and character — usually strives for. But we didn't have to like and care about de Gaulle. In the manuscript Forsyth used plot to arouse gripping Type 1 Negative Suspense. He did this so masterfully that, even though de Gaulle was deceased, Forsyth achieved that resurrected him in the reader's mind.

Thus lowbrow mainstream fiction teaches highbrow literary fiction a lesson. Just as a hammer is no better than a screw driver, character is no better than plot for initially arousing suspense. Just always use the right tool for the story at hand.

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