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Marissa Lingen

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Short stories I have liked since last time I did one of these posts [Dec. 17th, 2016|11:48 am]
Marissa Lingen

If WordPress drops my links out of this I will cry.

The Virgin Played Bass, by Maria Dahvana Headley (Uncanny)

A Hundred and Seventy Storms, by Aliette de Bodard (Uncanny)

The Spy Who Never Grew Up, by Sarah Rees Brennan (Uncanny)

Blue Flowers: Fragments, by Sofia Samatar (Uncanny)

Foreign Tongues, by John Wiswell (Flash Fiction Online)

Fear Death by Water, by Arkady Martine (Unlikely Story)

Skills to Keep the Devil in His Place, by Lia Swope Mitchell (Shimmer)

Palingenesis, by Megan Arkenberg (Shimmer)

Zombies in Winter, by Naomi Kritzer (Persistent Visions)

Playing Prometheus, by Frances Rowat (Persistent Visions)

Once I, Rose, by Merc Rustad (Daily Science Fiction)

A Dead Djinn in Cairo, by P. Djeli Clark (Tor.com)

The Stone Garden, by C. A. Hawksmoor (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

The Sweetest Skill, by Tony Pi (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

Das Steingeschopf, by G. V. Anderson (Strange Horizons)

Please note as always that I make no pretense of having read everything in the field or even everything in a particular magazine, so if you feel like recommending a story you’ve liked in the comments section, by all means do so. The only schedule I keep on these posts is that I do one at the end of the year with everything from that year all in one big post, so if you’re hoping I’ll have the time to read a particular story and like it, now’s your chance to speak up.


Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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Books read, early December [Dec. 16th, 2016|08:42 pm]
Marissa Lingen

Daniel Abraham, The Spider’s War. The end of its series. Too much abusive boyfriend, not enough banking. Seriously. It felt like Abraham started out doing cool things with banking, and then the banker did not get to use her banking skills in the climax of the book basically at all. She got to use metaphors for them, which were her feminine wiles. This did not thrill me. Also, the person she was forced to use feminine wiles on was incredibly distasteful to her and me, and I totally get what Abraham was doing with the portrayal of a Nice Guy TM wreaking havoc without really understanding why what he was doing was not okay, but that didn’t mean I enjoyed spending any time with him in fiction, either in his perspective or the perspectives of those around him. I really loved the series that started with A Shadow in Summer, and every project Abraham does is quite different from the others, so I’m glad this series has found its resolution so we can see what other themes and tropes he feels like playing with.

Chaz Brenchley, Three Twins at Crater School Chapters 20 & 21. Kindle. I know, I keep saying I am terrible at reading serials, but the thing is we’ve got to the point in the book that’s jam-packed with plot. Each chapter is fairly short–think kids’ book chapters, that’s the model Chaz is using–and yet things! keep! happening! So if I’m in line at the post office and need something on my Kindle, I can find out what. And I am such a sucker for school stories.

Avner Cohen, The Worst-Kept Secret: Israel’s Bargain with the Bomb. Cohen apparently has another book about Israel’s development of the bomb. This one was about Israeli attitudes and discussion practices around nuclear weapons. I found it mildly intellectually interesting and not the least bit emotionally engaging. Probably falls in the category of “if you have a particular interest in this topic but not otherwise.”

Charles de Lint, Waifs and Strays. Reread. One of the problems of collecting an author’s stories around a particular theme is that it can feel repetitive or expose weakness. In this case de Lint’s sense of teenage dialog is a serious weakness. I have found some of his work compelling, but this is just not a collection of his best stuff. Start somewhere else if you’re curious about de Lint.

A. M. Dellamonica, The Nature of a Pirate. Discussed elsewhere.

Bradley Denton, Buddy Holly Is Alive and Well on Ganymede. Reread. I am really curious about how this reads to someone who wasn’t living on the prairie in the late ’80s/early ’90s. Denton’s sense of prairie, of that part of middle America, is literally incomparable. I have no idea what other author even tries to get across that sense of the world, especially in the late 20th century. The music references were fun, the gonzo sf conceit continues to be better than I would have assumed without reading other Denton, but it’s the dust of the middle and southern plains that I really love in Denton’s work.

Maria Emilia Paz, Strategy, Security, and Spies: Mexico and the US as Allies in World War II. I really like having specific references about parts of the world wars that were not the obvious theaters, books that make clear the ways in which it was a world war. Paz has a keen sense of where each country was clueless about the other’s perceptions and motivations here–particularly the fact that the US no longer thought of itself as an invading power that had taken some Mexican land (on the “that was a long time ago” front) but Mexico really did perceive it that way and have several diplomatic needs accordingly. Interesting stuff, and brief enough not to become tedious.

Benjamin Rosenbaum, The Ant King and Other Stories. Reread. Rosenbaum’s stories are clever (sometimes the failure mode of clever), and I really like the other cities section. (I am a sucker for that.) The stories I liked best outside that section tended to be the least wry, to feel the least like they were smirking at their own characters. And I do love the off-the-wall surreal moments. That’s what I keep this collection around for.

Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters, Kat Leyh, Brooke Allen, and Carolyn Nowak, Lumberjanes: Band Together. The thing about Lumberjanes is that every new thing feels natural but you can’t see them coming. “Oh, mermaid music festival, sure,” is a thing that makes emotional sense in context, and it was fun, and we got a little more Roanoke cabin backstory along the way. Not clearly a major advancement in plot, but a fun, fast read.

Lynne Thomas, Michael Thomas, and Michi Trota, eds., Uncanny Magazine Issue 13. Kindle. I really liked the Sofia Samatar prose poem or whatever it was (I don’t have to know what it was! it was a thing I liked!), and the nonfiction of this issue was particularly strong, to the point where I am tempted to call it a service to the community. The stories were all quite readable but just barely not into the “favorites” category for me, although Amal’s thing was close, thoughtful and personal and wrenching and why not a favorite again? Hmm. Maybe I just needed to sit with it for awhile.

Adam Zamoyski, Rites of Peace: The Fall of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna. This goes into a lot of detail about the Congress of Vienna, which apparently lasted for quite some time. Zamoyski is interested in the personalities as well as the policies, so it’s a fairly engaging read, but if you pick it up on the wrong day it will replicate the “gahhhh will this never ennnnnd” feeling experienced by so many of the people involved. And suddenly there’s Napoleon! and then not! So really: pretty accurate emotionally as well as detailed in facts.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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The Nature of a Pirate [Dec. 16th, 2016|08:37 pm]
Marissa Lingen

Review copy provided by Tor Books.

This is the third in its series, and there is no reason not to read the first two and every reason to do so. But this one I think really comes into its own. This is the first time I have been able to figure out that it reminds me of Rosemary Kirstein’s Steerswoman series with people applying scientific method in circumstances where that is not the default. Lots of people are wanting more like that while they wait for more Steerswoman–at least lots of people in my social circles–so here you go, a portal fantasy with Steerswoman-like traits.

It also has lots of examinations of trust, complicity, and assumptions. The stuff about complicity in particular, how you work for change within a flawed society, which things are effective, which things make your position clear…all of that has timing that I’m sure Alyx wishes was not quite so apt.

There are also some quite vivid creations called frights that sink ships and cause other kinds of mayhem, so…yay mayhem.

Please consider using our link to buy The Nature of a Pirate from Amazon.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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This is a long-distance call [Dec. 13th, 2016|06:37 am]
Marissa Lingen

I’ve been doing this for ten years now.

Not making the lussekatter; that’s a tradition of longer standing. But writing about the making of the lussekatter every year. About doing the work of the dark of the year, singing the light back into the world while you make the saffron-rich bread. About Santa Lucia Day, how it comes before Solstice so there is more dark to come, and what that means to me. It’s the same every year. It’s different every year. Holidays are like that.

This year in particular I am so glad to have a ritual to fall back on, work that yields to patience and experience and knowledge. The long rise changed my life. This year I made a half-batch, carefully measuring the beaten egg into my tiniest measuring cup, pouring half of it into the dough and half down the drain. (I know. It would have been fine with a whole egg. But I want it the way it’s supposed to taste, not a slightly richer version.) And between the smaller mass of dough and the knowledge gained from years past, it was an easy knead, turning pliable almost as soon as I picked it up.

In addition to Christmas songs, I find myself singing other songs every year, whatever pops into my head. “Lovers in a Dangerous Time” and “This Year” and whatever else feels appropriate. This year I discovered that what I was singing was Paul Simon’s “The Boy in the Bubble,” with a line I never really thought of before: “These are the days of miracle and wonder, and don’t cry, baby, don’t cry.” The days of miracle and wonder, we find out, are not the same as the days of ease and laughter. The days of miracle and wonder make us weep, and not just for joy. Not even mostly for joy.

Sometimes miracle and wonder come upon us all unawares. But sometimes we have to work for them. We have to work our asses off for them, and cry and despair and feel that we’ve come to the end of the line. And some of us have–I don’t want to pretend that it’s inevitable that we always win out, that we always come through the dark times. Sometimes it is just all too damn much. And the people around us, the people we turn to for help, may have reached their point of “all too damn much” in ways and for reasons that we don’t know or don’t understand.

And it’s so easy to feel distant from everyone we love, to see the distances and not the ways in which we’re close. It’s so easy to feel like we’re struggling alone instead of together. But it’s not true. Or it doesn’t have to be.

And still we try to carve out something beautiful, something fragrant and fine. Something we can give, something that connects us. Something miraculous and wonderful. Even in a year where the dark days have taken turns we never imagined. Especially in that kind of year. I’m struggling to remember which rabbi it was, what the exact wording was, who said that the work of the world is neither ours to complete nor ours to abandon. Not my tradition–but one of my truths. One of my great truths.

It’s time to sing the songs and bake the bread. It’s time to find our way kicking and screaming into miracle and wonder. And it’s time to do the work in the dark time to bring the light back into the world in the days ahead.

Happy Santa Lucia Day.

2006: http://mrissa.livejournal.com/380857.html

2007: http://mrissa.livejournal.com/502825.html and http://mrissa.livejournal.com/503100.html

2008: http://mrissa.livejournal.com/596214.html

2009: http://mrissa.livejournal.com/688906.html

2010: http://mrissa.livejournal.com/751599.html

2011: http://mrissa.livejournal.com/798532.html

2012: http://mrissa.livejournal.com/842565.html

2013: http://www.marissalingen.com/blog/?p=260

2014: http://www.marissalingen.com/blog/?p=659

2015: http://www.marissalingen.com/blog/?p=1141

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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In a good cause: for science! [Dec. 11th, 2016|11:17 pm]
Marissa Lingen

I suspect that everyone who reads this blog knows that science is a strong and passionate interest of mine. Science! Because it works! Science! Because it’s built to incorporate new information when new information is available, and to provide tools for making it available! Science! Well. I don’t think you’re the people who need convincing.

But there are people who need convincing, because our president-elect has just been making noise about “nobody knows” whether climate change is real. Oh, sure, nobody except a vast consensus of scientists and a still more vast consensus of scientists whose fields are relevant to it. And the people who listen to them and read their papers and look at data. But other than that, nobody.

It’s a really good time to support science with a public face. Science playing a role in civic affairs. Science trying to shake us all by the shoulders and say “LISTEN UP BUDDY THIS IS SERIOUS.” This is why this week’s charity Union of Concerned Scientists. http://www.ucsusa.org/ Tons of scientists doing tons of work in a democratic society, towards a democratic society. Worth the time and attention. Go. Support. For science.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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In a good cause: autism resources [Dec. 6th, 2016|09:53 pm]
Marissa Lingen

A lot of charities for health variants assume that those health variants are illnesses or disabilities. And a lot of them are. And some of them aren’t. One of my metrics for whether I’m willing to support a group that’s “about” autism is whether they automatically assume that it’s a disease, a disability, a flaw. I’m a non-autistic/neurotypical person, but I have several autistic people dear to my heart, and they’re different from me, not flawed in the way that my balance disorder is a flaw. They process differently than I do. I’m really glad to see the word “neurodiversity” in the world, because I think having different modes of thought, different perspectives, is a positive good, and some of those are about brain wiring, not just philosophy. Sometimes we’re using a metaphor when we say that someone sees the world differently. Sometimes if you’re measuring, for example, discrimination between number of fine lines per inch, it’s really quite literal and you can poke it. And seeing the world in more than one way helps all of us.

Autistic Self-Advocacy Network (ASAN) is one of my favorite resources for this philosophy. With the motto “nothing about us without us,” they form a solid opposition to the kind of rhetoric that treats autistic people as objects, and inconvenient objects at that. Website is http://autisticadvocacy.org/

(I am putting websites in text right now because WordPress ate my link yesterday. Sigh.)

Autism Housing Network definitely inclines toward the portions of the autism spectrum that are more clearly disabilities, or at least are disabilities under our current society. But people with those types of autism do need choices for where and how to live as adults. http://www.autismhousingnetwork.org/ has been recommended to me as a good resource for people struggling with those choices.

I would be glad to hear about other organizations that support neurodiversity in our broader culture, with a clear focus on not treating difference as a problem to be eliminated or solved. Or, as always, any other charities near and dear to your heart can go in the comments section, too.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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Early Christmas present: The Elf Who Thought He Was Teddy Roosevelt [Dec. 5th, 2016|10:25 pm]
Marissa Lingen
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Some years I take a notion, and this is one of them.

I like the idea of giving fiction as a present, but I’m not embedded enough in the fanfiction community–or, let us be honest, committed or organized enough–to commit to doing Yuletide. Instead, some years I decide it’s time to give a story away for free for Christmas, to whoever wants to read it. Please don’t copy the text, but spread the link far and wide if you want to. This year Mikulas left Teddy Roosevelt in your shoe. Or rather–

The Elf WHo Thought He Was Teddy Roosevelt

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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Books read, late November [Dec. 1st, 2016|10:23 am]
Marissa Lingen

J. G. Ballard, Empire of the Sun. I’ve watched the movie several times, and it seemed like time to find out how the book is different. The book is less unified, more disjointed, aiming more at a psychological realism. There were places where the fact that it was nearly a memoir but cast as a novel distracted me a lot, mostly in the places where Ballard reported Jim’s future thoughts/feelings. I was fascinated by the way it did not try to cast anyone as nicer than they were, replicated the moral short-sightedness of Jim’s inexperience without trying to shape it into something nobler, but at the same time was not wallowing in nastiness, not being proto-grimdark. This book walks a very precise line. It isn’t a happy fun line, as you would expect for the subject matter, and now may not be the right time to read this.

Chaz Brenchley, Three Twins at Crater School, Chapter 19. Kindle. I know I shouldn’t read serials as they come out, but I was waiting for the eye doctor and it was right there. So yes, it is a serial, it is a very tiny chunk of plot, moving forward and then waiting some more. Soooooon.

Susan Cooper, Dreams and Wishes: Essays on Writing for Children. Reread. A lot of the essays here are not essays but reprints of speeches given to/for different organizations. This makes a difference in tone. This is not a chewy volume of thoughts, it is a set of impressions that she can exhort people with when they might have come in late or been distracted by their neighbor chewing salad. There is also a lot of assumption that television is not an art form, or is an art form with nothing to offer, a lot of electronic alarmism. Ah well. I will go back and read The Dark Is Rising instead next time.

David Edgar, Pentecost. A short play about war and human rights and art. Explores interesting things about priorities and assumptions, context for what is derivative and what is ground-breaking. If I never read another work where someone uses a prostitute as a stand-in/metaphor for a disadvantaged country, it will be too soon.

Nicola Griffith, Stay. Reread. This book is about consequences (it’s the sequel to The Blue Place). Griffith writes gorgeously about the physicality of grief, finding your way back, figuring out a new reality after trauma. I love this book. Caveat: she appears to have been badly misinformed about borderline personality disorder and is rather stigmatizing about it. This is a brief plot point, but I’ve become more aware of mental health stigma in the fourteen years since I last read this book, and I didn’t want to gush without exception.

Nancy Isenberg, White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America. Wow, is this a gappy book. For a supposed history of class in America, it does not include, for example, labor unions, immigration, white ethnicity, international socialism, William Jennings Bryan’s populism, the GI Bill…yeah. It did not include a lot. Elvis as a “country boy/white trash” archetype: yes. Broader class distinctions in American popular music over those 400 years: surely you jest. So…there were some interesting bits, but if you read it, go in thinking about it as “some possibly interesting thoughts about class in the US” rather than a history of.

Shirley Jackson, Life Among the Savages. I said to myself, I’ve only really read the very obvious bits of Shirley Jackson, I should get some more from the library. So I chose a title more or less at random, and it was this bubbly bit of 1950s autobiography as a mom/housewife/writer (but mostly not about the writer part). Oops. I mean, not oops, it wasn’t like it was terrible, but it was not what I was aiming for. Still, it was short and fun; you could do worse.

Mikki Kendall and Chesya Burke, eds., Hidden Youth: Speculative Fiction from the Margins. An interesting and varied anthology. Some stand-out stories included Jaymee Goh’s “A Name to Ashes,” Alec Austin’s “The Paper Sword,” and E.C. Myers’s “In His Own Image.”

William Morris, Hopes and Fears for Art. Kindle. William Morris continues to be the cranky Victorian uncle of my heart. Oh dear. This set of speeches/essays contains a digression into Morris admonishing people that if they claim to care about art but don’t care about air pollution, they don’t really care about art. You can just see his whiskers quivering with indignation. I love it. He also goes into some discussion about how to get cheap art without treating artists badly, still a live question, and has a list of colors you could in good taste paint the interior of your home. For which I really wanted pantone samples of the field of possibilities he was choosing from in paint technology of the time.

Mark Rosenfelder, The Language Construction Kit. Goes into phonemes, grammar, nuts and bolts of how to make a constructed language. I am a lot more interested in how those things fit with culture and story, but if you don’t have language instincts, this could help a lot with fantasy/alien worldbuilding.

Rebecca Solnit, A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster. This was the real win of this set of books. So lovely. I went and put everything else she’s written on one list or another halfway through, I was enjoying this so much. Solnit goes into the way people work together in disasters and in their aftermath, and the ways in which preconceptions about that can seriously hinder communities. The stories she tells from a variety of disaster types match patterns a lot with my post-tornado experiences. Really good stuff for SF writers in particular but really for anyone.

Edward Struzik, Future Arctic: Field Notes from a World on Edge. This is about a bunch of follow-on effects and second order consequences from current climate change in the Arctic, particularly on animal populations. Interesting stuff but not cheerful. Not even a little bit cheerful. But worth knowing anyway.

David Suzuki and Keibo Oiwa, The Japan We Never Knew: A Journey of Discovery. This is a very strange book. It’s a series of profiles (written in the mid-90s) of activists, ethnic minorities, and other members of Japanese countercultures. It’s basically trying to be a counterweight to the western reporting that gives us Japan as a monolith of conformity and cosplay. I’d like a modern version, but one from twenty years ago is also useful because there were, for example, still people who were adults during the Second World War and counterculturally activist because of it, and hearing about them is valuable too.

Django Wexler, The Price of Valor. Third in its series. Don’t start here. Relationships continue to unfold and develop. Still some revolutionary politics, not following the French Revolution linearly but taking inspiration from it.

Richard White, The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815. Fascinating book about how Native American and European groups (mostly the French) created rituals and means of interaction that partook of both sets of cultural norms. Also goes into the breakdown of those crosscultural developments, not only but particularly with the advent of the British and the people who had just started thinking of themselves as Americans. Definitely worth the time, not just if you have an interest in the Great Lakes region of the US and Canada but particularly so if you do.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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In a good cause: NoDAPL and other Native Rights [Nov. 29th, 2016|10:45 pm]
Marissa Lingen
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Sometimes the obvious thing is the right thing. The NoDAPL movement–opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline–is something a lot of my friends are thinking about, talking about, wondering how to help with. So it may seem a little obvious. But obvious is sometimes right. And I think that–for example–the difficulties of reservation law enforcement in dealing with white people who commit crimes on the reservation are not necessarily obvious to people who don’t want to think about it. They’re only well-known in certain circles. So: Native rights, justice for Native people both at Standing Rock and elsewhere: generally a good cause.

Let’s start with Native American Rights Fund. They support a broad range of causes–government accountability, preservation of resources, individual rights and justice–with an ongoing umbrella organization that will not only help the people at Standing Rock, they’ll help the people at the next Standing Rock. And try to prevent the next one from happening in the first place.

Last week for Thanksgiving there were several round-up posts about what you can do, if you don’t want to go from site to site. Here’s one. And another. Please remember that if you’re going to go participate in the protests yourself, you want it to be about what the people there need, not about your own spiritual journey. (Actually that’s a good focus for any charitable/volunteer work.)

There are also individual camps taking donations, so you can take your pick: Oceti Sakowin camp; Sacred Stone Camp; Standing Rock Rosebud Camp; Red Warrior Camp. And hey. This pipeline was judged not safe enough to go through the predominantly white areas–that is, not safe enough for my cousins. So why is it safe enough for someone else’s? It isn’t. This pipeline is being built by people with some of the worst oil pipeline leak records in the country. The other question to ask is: what have I done, actively, to be a good neighbor to my Indian/Native American/First Nations neighbors? Because we are long past the point where “I didn’t personally go kick them in the shins” is enough.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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Suspense [Nov. 22nd, 2016|08:41 pm]
Marissa Lingen

I watch a lot of cop shows to get through my workouts. The pacing is right, and the fact that there’s almost always a resolution of at least an intermediate problem within a few episodes is very satisfying when I’m not thoroughly in love with the story line. (I need more workout fodder than I can find “thoroughly in love with the story line.”) But oh my golly, do they have a common misconception about how narrative tension and suspense work.

People who tell stories get told to make it personal, and to up the stakes. And apparently for a lot of writers that means “threaten the death of your protagonist, possibly along with as large a number of other people as possible up to and including the entire universe.” But this is actually a pretty decent way to decrease the suspense in your story. Is the main character going to die horribly? Particularly in a show where you have actors under contract, is the star who is under a big contract going to die horribly and not be on the show any more? No. No they are not. I was watching a show last season where people said, “I can’t believe they killed off one of the two leads!” And surprise: they didn’t. In the middle of writing this, I watched an episode where they upped the stakes from “will this kill one of the main characters?” to “will this kill the entire cast?” and guess what, no. It did not.

Some stories try to kill characters off early to show you that they mean business, that no one is safe. This almost never works unless you are not paying attention. Early deaths almost always mean less investment from the viewer/reader–you’ve been with that character for twenty minutes, not twenty hours. And it’s also less investment from the storyteller–especially in media that involve big name actors whose level of involvement in a project is going to be clear from ads. Even prose writers who don’t have to worry about that thing tend to get used to having particular characters to play with. So what early deaths mean is “this will have some level of death/gore,” not “no one is safe.” I can tell you who’s safe. Ask me.

One way to manage this kind of tension is to make the suspenseful question not whether Our Protagonist will get out of this particular bear trap but how. Getting the reader/viewer invested in the details of the story is never a bad idea. If they just want to find out yes/no on horrible deaths–if yes/no on horrible deaths is all you’ve given them as a question–their investment level will probably be pretty low anyway.

Another is to use what appear to be lower stakes problems, because they can result in more tension/suspense if they’re things that might actually happen. Are you going to kill off the protagonist of your successful series? Probably not, or at least not in any lasting way. But are you going to make their best friend or family member mad at them? Are you going to give them setbacks along the road to their goals? Almost certainly. Are you going to give them this particular setback? The reader/viewer doesn’t know. And that’s where the suspense comes in.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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