Friday, September 30, 2011

Spoiler Alert

Reading the final pages of a story before you begin to read it may enhance your reading experience. This is the finding of researchers at the University of California.

It turns out that suspense is not everyone’s cup of tea. Some people are only prepared to make a tough journey if they know that everyone will get to the destination in one piece.

I get that.

Recently my wife and I watched a movie about corruption in the US government. The movie had pace, it had dialogue, it had plot. But then, out of the blue, one of the characters travelled to Iraq. The directors got out the Steadicam. They followed that character down a debris strewn street in Baghdad. I was with that character. I was in Baghdad. I wasn’t safe. Someone was going to get hurt. Some innocent person was going to be blown up by an unexpected ordnance. I was nervous. I reached for the movie’s cover. I rechecked the rating. I reread the back cover.

“I think it’s going to be fine,” I told my wife. I didn’t feel fine. “I’m pretty sure no one gets blown up unexpectedly in this movie.”

I wasn’t at all sure.

But I was right: no one was blown up. Had I known that that scene, the edgy guy-walking-down-street-in-Iraq scene, would turn out okay, I would have enjoyed the movie more.

The scene made me realise two things - two things that apply equally to story writing and film making. First, suspense is a strong flavour: a little goes a long way. Second, if you don’t want your reader flicking to the end of your tale, give them a clue that lets them know that things are going to be okay.

If you’re reading this sentence before you read what's written above, let me tell you: it’s going to be okay.

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