Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Lit Fuse

"Lighting the fuse" is a powerful literary device for creating negative Type 2 Suspense — putting the reader in a state of anxiety or apprehension.

The classic example is that a time-bomb is about to go off and the hero must defuse it in time. But you can light the fuse by putting a sympathetic character in any situation with something terrible about to happen (usually at an appointed time) that the characters must prevent.

Thriller writers are masters of the Lit Fuse device. An example is Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth. He keeps us in suspense for almost the entire novel, hoping that the hero keeps the Jackal, a hired assassin, from killing French President Charles de Gaulle. Another example is The Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett. In it a Nazi tries to reach a radio so he can send Berlin crucial information about the imminent D-Day Invasion. He must be stopped in time.

But thrillers aren't the only stories that use the Lit Fuse device to create powerful suspense. For example, in Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, the damned Yankees are about to burn defenseless Atlanta, and Scarlett must flee. But not till after she delivers a baby.

More on this device later.

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