Dark Is The Stain: Suspense.
Sunday morning Fred posted a lovely series of Advent readings and Scriptures, and yesterday he posted on Hope ( I swear, we didn’t plan this). Now, I gotta say, just as over the last decade I’ve grown incredibly fond of Tenebrae (a service of darkness to be held the Friday night before Resurrection Sunday and commemorates Christ’s death), over the last few years I’ve begun growing fond of Advent, the Season of Perpetual Suspense. Part of me appreciates the sobriety of it; part of me enjoys the focus it brings to the rancorous rush of Christmas Spirit; and part of me enjoys the reminder of our deep, deep roots that go back as far as the Garden where God promised a woman her son would destroy her family’s greatest and oldest foe.
And a good part of me craves the suspense. I’m that kid who finds the thrill of “Something’s coming” as much as “It’s here. Now.” I count the months to my next birthday, the days till Christmas, and the remaining weeks of school (or summer). I won’t ask what my gifts are and will never peek; and don’t you dare tell me the end of a story I haven’t read or seen. Action-packed or dialogue-driven, the story will keep me spellbound as long as it holds that promise of a pay-off well worth the wait.
Just you wait, the writer says. Just you wait, I’ll show you something you never would’ve thought.
And because I’m a trusting reader, I believe that promise, and sit on the very, very edge of my seat, never reading fast enough, never questioning the highs and lows, never doubting when all seems lost.
Because you, dear writer, have promised me. My hope is in your delivery.
Steven James speaks regularly about maintaining suspense: Every word is a promise, he says, and every promise must be delivered by the end of the book.
Every story, then, is an Advent. Characters become the descendants of a long line of waiting for something; readers become active participants anxiously expecting something terrible or wonderful, all longing for one thing. And as the story races on, the tension builds, climbing higher and higher until at last the opposing forces collide and crash down on one another. At that point, James says, you must meet or exceed the reader’s expectation.
Maybe it’s a little silly, comparing the anxious impatience of a child waiting for over a month Christmas morning and the glorious wake of an unseen visitor or the 400-year, anguished longing of Israel as they awaited God’s silence to end and the Messiah’s reign to begin to the white-knuckled grip of a reader’s hands on a book while they hold their breath for hours. But, be it an hour, a month, a lifetime, a thousand lifetimes . . . In the end we’re all little kids pacing around impatiently and begging for fulfillment NOW, and, in a weird way, maybe the high-wire suspense element would be easier to maintain and deliver if we remembered the weight of hundreds of years of pleading God for now and the vibrant yearning of a child ready for Christmas.
I count the months to my next birthday, the days till Christmas, and the remaining weeks of school (or summer).
You must have some birthday party.
Now that I’m in college, I count down the days to ANY break longer than a weekend (and even weekends sometimes). I like this train of thought, cause waiting can be a witness too…
(As I was typing up that last sentence. I got a picture of Amelia Pond sitting on her suitcase in The Eleventh Hour. I guess the Doctor is going to pop up whether I want him to or not-I mostly do.)
Some people are adrenaline junkies.
Others are anticipation junkies. 😉
There is a such a delight in knowing something is coming. Even better is the sure hope that Someone is coming again!
Kaci, your post made me want to write. Music often does, but this was different. I enjoyed the post, but especially:
“At that point, James says, you must meet or exceed the reader’s expectation. ”
I want to go back to my current story and see that this aspect is done well. It’s true: We’re promising the reader something. And, we must do our best to fulfill our promise.