Monday, October 8, 2007

Debra Spark's Super Smart Essay on Suspense and Surprise

My first semester as an MFA student, I lucked out big time: my advisor was Debra Spark, whose fiction and nonfiction is terrific. Her essays on writing are just unbelievably sharp. Her latest article, "And Then Something Happened," appears in the current issue of The Writer's Chronicle:
"I believe than when it comes to snobbery about genre fiction, I am the reigning queen, yet I'd like to tout the virtues of suspense and surprise. Not psychological revelations or character complications, but an interesting shift in events, of fiction that is structured to make one curious, sometimes desperately curious, about what happens next." p. 74
Debra provides a compelling investigation into the craft of suspense in "character-driven" literary fiction as she discusses "the writerly embarrassment about plot." Quoting from E.M. Forster, Lily King, Dan Chaon and Laura Kasischke, she offers an unflinching look at what works and what doesn't when it comes to "creating a suspenseful piece of literature." Chaon's comments about how he organized the narrative of his novel You Remind Me of Me is fascinating; he was influenced by the masterful structure of Michael Cunningham's The Hours and "was interested in what serial TV was doing--The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, ER. How they cut up multiple story lines and juggled, how the create intense suspense by crosscutting."

How much information do we, as writers, give to the reader? How do we structure events? How do we parcel out narratives among a constellation of characters? How will the parts connect (or how will reader make the connections?) "All this has to do with time," Debra writes, "and how we are going to manipulate time."

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