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Not really on topic, but you have reminded me of the horror of shows where the director doesn't know the sifference between suspense and stalling. They're always one-hour shows, and I cannot help but suspect that the writer was told it was half an hour, turned out a script, was told it was an hour, asked for more money, and was fired.

Back to this.

You've expressed the concepts beautifully.

Suspense is going through the whole thing and realizing you've known about the key plot element all along.

Surprise is, "Strictly speaking, I'm never supposed to do this," and if I ever write a surprise that good the cloud of Smug will destroy South Park.

shows where the director doesn't know the sifference between suspense and stalling.

Oh, don't get me started! Or my other fave, the "something important is happening but we won't tell you what it is!" thing. There's one, very well-regarded genre author who does this crap all the time--or did repeatedly through the one novel I read, I won't read any more of their work because of it. Every other chapter it's stuff like "Jane couldn't stop thinking about the horrible thing that had happened to Susie.....Little Susie's life had never been the same since that terrible day...If only Jane had realized what would happen to Susie..." and on and on for pages refusing to even hint at what it might be except to imply that Little Susie was tortured to death or something, until you discover that, in fact, Susie fell down and skinned her knee in the marketplace. Even if Susie had been horribly maimed, this is a cheat. Just tell the reader, why play tricks like this to no purpose? Oh, you think it heightens the tension?

Look, this does not heighten tension. It makes me want to smack the author upside the head. I have never felt such palpable contempt for a reader's intelligence coming off the page. And I won't subject myself to it again, no matter how highly praised this author's other work is.

if I ever write a surprise that good

Truer words. I know, theoretically, technically, how they pulled it off. I could tell you exactly how I think they managed it. But I don't think I could pull it off myself on that scale.

Still, pondering how it was managed is helpful even when you're not trying on such a virtuosic level.

Thank you! I suspect you'll be seeing a link to this on Kyle's blog later today.

Indeed! And you're absolutely right about that Conversation! It's an important one, isn't it, and important to be able to join or at least listen and think about it. :)

I'd say figuring out just how much info I can put into a book and create suspense is one of the toughests challenges for me as a writer. When I read mysteries, suspense seems to come from giving me info that threatens characters I care about, while the surprise comes from my having misunderstood that information.

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