The Noble Pen for March 5, 2015

Next Noble Pen Meeting

March 5th, 2015 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids



Science fiction fans are saddened to learn that Leonard Nimoy died on Feb 27th.  RIP Mr. Spock.


Sometimes a first novel gets a publicity boost, in this case from Oprah. Cultivate your contacts.


Marvel Comics is revamping their offerings, including more women superheros.  So far, I don’t think any of them are from Bombay.


Sometimes movies get a little ridiculous. How many of you would write a “first edition of the Iliad” into a garage sale in your story? But a lot of viewers didn’t know any better and wanted to buy one.


Mark’s submission to a gaming group contest was selected in the top group, and he has a commission to write a gaming article.

Dylan cleaned up the remaining chapters of Sand and Bone.

Tyree finished the requested edits to Bombay Sapphire and sent it back in.

Laura got an A on her final class paper.


Tension, uncertainty, or in its stronger form suspense, is what keeps readers turning pages.  Here are some situations that can be used to build tension.

The writer must balance between keeping the reader uncertain versus pulling unbelievable plot turns out of the hat.  If the main character is in a shoot-out, the reader needs to worry that he might get hurt or killed.  In a romance, the reader needs to wonder if the girl will end up with the prince, or at least how she could overcome obstacles to end up with the prince.  A murder mystery usually isn’t mysterious if we know who did it and how.

On the other hand, we shouldn’t use “deus ex machina”, pulling a miracle out of nowhere to save the protagonist.  You can’t make up an ending that has no roots in the earlier pages.  Important events should be foreshadowed.   The Ellery Queen mysteries had a rule that the reader should always think at the end that they should have figured out the mystery, because all the necessary clues were there.

It’s tempting to hide the relevant foreshadowing in extraneous detail.  But the concept of Chekhov’s gun says that if there is a gun on the mantelpiece in an early scene, it must be used later in the story.   The reader shouldn’t have to remember and sort through too much irrelevant detail.

So how do you balance foreshadowing, omitting irrelevant information, and keeping the reader uncertain?

Some writers advise a moderate amount of misdirection to keep the plot unpredictable (and here). Think like the stage magician, who keeps you focused on one had while the other does the tricky work.  Give the reader clearly vital information but distract them by immediately going into the battle, chase, or emotional confrontation.

Give the important event or fact an obvious, unimportant reason to be there.  Let the reader assume a lower relevance for events than they turn out to have.  Use details that just seem like scene-setting but turn out to be critical.  Or let something obviously important turn out to have a different meaning than assumed.  Don’t lie to the reader, or place too much emphasis on the red herring, or they will feel cheated.  Just lead them to lie to themselves.

Give your character decisions to make, especially if they are difficult choices between alternatives with uncertain outcomes.

Once you become predictable, no one’s interested anymore. ~Chet Atkins

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