Surprise and Suspense – Is There a Difference?

Is there a difference? – Absolutely, yes, although the two are closely connected. Before I anwser that question in more detail, let me ask you another one. Is it necessary to use both in fiction writing? I suppose not. As the author, you’re free to write anything, anyway you want to. But if only surprise or suspense is used I have to question, how well is the story written?

Now, let’s talk about surprise and suspense, and I think you’ll see why it’s so important to use both.

The use of surprise seems to come out of the blue. The reader is not expecting it. It blindsides him. But the effect is short-lived. He may receive a shot of adrenaline, but the thrill soon passes. Good writing should contain a susrprise here and there to excite the reader.

Suspense, on the other hand, begs the question, what is going to happen next? it’s suspense that keeps the pages turning. Suspense isn’t necessarily surprising, but it builds from the surprise. Consider Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. We know the story well, but if we were reading it for the first time, we might be surprised that a ghost would be part of a Christmas story. As the story progresses, suspense begins to make us wonder who will visit next? What will be the outcome?

What about a story about a serial killer? The surprise may be when the first murder takes place in a passive, rural town. Then we see murders are to be expected. Suspense takes hold when we don’t know who will be next – how, where or when it will happen. The only way to find out is turn another page. After all, that is the goal, isn’t it.

Try surprise and suspense in your stories and see what happens. You just might create a New York Times bestseller.

Using Pictures for Story Ideas

I often use pictures to get ideas for scenes and/or settings. The above picture is the property of jlgsgirl photography and was specifically taken for use in my book, Dear Ellie. Before I explain the significance of the picture in the story, let me ask you, what kind of story might this image tell? Tell it in your imagination.

Then translate what your imagination is telling you to the written word. Maybe you see a sense of peace. Perhaps you see a lonely bench where happiness and dreams once sat. Could it be a storm is brewing just over the horizon that’s not in view yet? What about the railing? Is it there to prevent a suicide? What might the tree tell us? It could possibly represent shade and protection from an ordeal your character is experiencing. In reality, there may be scores of things this picture could be communicating to our imagination. But it’s your imagination and your story.

The above picture was taken for a specific idea I had while writing Dear Ellie, but you can use pictures to gain ideas from as well. I hope you’ve seen that. I don’t want to break anybody’s bubble, but I don’t believe writer’s block exists. I think it’s also a product of the imagination. Sometimes I need to think about a scene before it’s fully developed in my mind, and I’ve found that browsing through online images often help to break the ice and get the creative juices flowing again.

There are many online image sources. I usually use Google images, but you might also try Pinterest, Pixabay, and a host of others. Let your imagination pore over the images and develop your scene as your muse dictates. I think you’ll be pleased with the results.

Now, back to the picture from Dear Ellie. There were actually two. This one was placed in the beginnig of the book before the first word of chapter appears.

In this picture, Ellie is filled with confusion over circustances in her life. All she sees are trees and weeds that block her thinking. Her reality has become muddied as she comtemplates her life – her life that is to be revealed as the story progresses.

The first picture of the empty bench appears at the end of the book, after the very last word was written. We see she has found another bench looking out over a relatively clear sky with no obstructions – but she is gone. The story tells of a life of pain reconciled with the acceptance of reality. The storm has passed, and she moves on.

Even though the two bench photos were taken to fit the story, so often it works the other way around for me. I see a scene first with my eyes and then translate it to my imagination. The final product exists when I translate it from my imagination to the written word. Give it a try. It just may be what you need to block writer’s block.

Continuing Education

We live in a world where sometimes education is placed on a pedistal. Education is not the answer to everything, but nevertheless it is true that the more we know about a subject, the better prepared we are to apply that knowledge to our lives.

Writing is one of those areas. As a writer, our education should never end. There is always something new we can learn to help us improve and reach our goals as a wordsmith. You can always pick one of my in-depth writing courses from the resource page, but I want to give you a link to some free, short courses from Reedsy Learning. You can choose from scores of courses (all free) that cover the five main areas of self-publishing – writing, editing, publishing, distribution, and marketing.

The courses are easy to understand and apply. I’ve taken several of them and found them to be useful. Although the courses are very basic, there is much information you can work into your writing and publishing. I don’t get a cent for this endorsement. I just thought you might be interested so I’m passing it on. Just click here, and you’re on your way to a continuing education in the art of word creation.

Do You Want to Know a Secret?

Have you ever noticed how keeping secrets or telling secrets sometimes get the best of people. Everyone loves to receive privileged information, and many times we love giving it away. So take advantage of our tendecy to be curious. Give your character a secret to keep or to divulge against his/her better judgment.

What will happen if Sue’s boss suspects she is falling in love with him? What about a teen-ager who joins a gang? How will his poor mother feel if she finds out? How does he keep her from finding out?

Secrets are great for causing suspense, and they can add another dimension to your character. How will your character hide his secret? What will be the fallout if he is found out?

Will giving your character a secret fear or desire broaden the story? Was there something degrading or shameful in his/her past that they choose to hide? Is there an aspect of their lives they want to keep a secret. Do they pretend to be someone they’re not?

He/She is your character. Build him/her any way you want. Give him/her a secret that will blow your readers away. Just go it!

What About Story Endings?

There can be no question. Your first page, your first paragraph must catch the attention of your reader – or they won’t read. But suppose they read your work to the end. A story that begins well must end well. The ending is what your reader will remember. It forms the final impression for your reader, not just of the story, but of you, the author. Consider the following:

Your readers are looking for something. They hope to find it in your story. Wht are they looking for? Most likely, an emotional payoff. The ending should reward them for their emotional investment in your tale.

It should show the result of the conflict (Hopefully, you’ve developed a clear conflict). Has your protagonist reached the goal? Maybe – maybe not. Sometimes a good ending might leave your reader wondering about the final outcome. The ending may not be clear, but may be suggestive of things to come.

A good ending shows the results of your protagonist’s character arc. How has he/she changed because of the struggles encountered in the story? What has been learned?

A good ending will collect all the loose ends and tie them up in a suggestive way – no need to go into detail as this will likely bog down the story.

These are just a few things to think about when ending your story. Take them for what it’s worth.

Rainy Days and Mondays

Hello, again. It’s Monday and it’s raining. Rainy days and Mondays always get . . . well, not necessarily. There is much to do. Places to go. People to see. Business is good as long as it doesn’t turn to busyness. I do believe there is a difference.

Business is actually accomplishing something, regardless of its importance. Busyness is doing for the sake of doing, and that takes away from accomplishing your goals – whether they are goals in writing or anything else you undertake. 

The older I get, the more I realize time is short and there is none to waste. I look back and see all the time that has already been wasted, and I don’t want to go that route anymore. You know what! By looking back, I’ve already wasted time. Keep moving ahead, one foot in front of the other. 

It’s okay to look back if you can learn from your mistakes, but please don’t dwell on them (I’m assuming you’ve made some mistakes, too).  Psalm 37:4 tells us, “Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.” I don’t believe that’s a blank check for anything we may desire. I believe if we delight ourselves in the Lord, He will place within us His desires for our life. His desires become our desires. If we delight in the Lord, our goals, our dreams, come from Him and He will fulfill them. Of course, this doesn’t apply if we are full of busyness. Focus on business, and your attempts will be fruitful.

Time Flies

The old saying, “Time flies” certainly is true. My only question is, where is it flying to? It is here for a fleeting nanosecond, and it’s gone forever. There is much to write about. There are many other areas of our lives we need to address. There is much love to share, but in a split second, it’s all gone.

So I will ask, How are you spending your time? Is it profitable? Is it wasted? Will it count for all eternity? The term, “spending time”, means exactly that. You are spending time just as you spend money. You will get what you pay for. There are no special deals or sales in the world of time. Every second you spend is worth something. What are you buying with your time?

Your choice of how you spend your time will determine what comes back to you. Time is fleeting. Time is never still. Time waits for no man (or woman). So I ask again, and hopefully you will seriously consider it – how are you spending your time?

Tonight’s the Night

Tonight’s the night – and today is the day. My eleventh book, Pinpoint Analysis, is now live. You can get it from Amazon or order it from your favorite bookstore, but your best option is to order it directly from me here at MVOWC. I never charge shipping so you’ll be saving at least $3.00-$5.00. Just go to the Books and Resources page.

Tonight we will be celebrating at the launch party. You all are invited. It will be held at 756 Axemann Road in Pleasant Gap, PA. If you’re able, please stop by and say “Hello”. We’ll begin at 7:00 p.m. There will be plenty of food, lots of free give-aways, and tons of fun. Hope to see you!!!

One Week and Counting

It seems like sucha long time since I began the rough draft of Pinpoint Analysis. Actually, it’s been over a year. Time passes quickly. Today the book is available at amazon.com both as a paperback and e-book. You can also order it at your favorite bookstore. Unfortunately, because it is now live, the book goes to full price.

But – here’s the deal!

The launch date isn’t until May 20th, so if you order from me here at this website, you can still (until May 20th) get the book for only $5.00 which also includes shipping. That means that in reality, you practically get the book for free. You can’t beat that, can you?

The official launch date is May 20th. The party is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. and if anyone is in the area, let me know. I’ll send you directions and would love to have you stop by. I wish you all could be there. There will be refreshments, book give-aways, a short powerpoint discussion on why we write, and of course, books.

I’ll try to post some pictures and maybe a video after it’s over. It’s been a long journey, but for me, it’s been well worth it. Now it’s on to my next project.