Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Post Presentations, With Suspense

Well, there were five folks in the audience for my talk. One of them was Lana. Nevertheless, I thought it went pretty well. Everyone seemed interested and involved, and there were a lot of good, fun questions after. The entire audience was female as well. Maybe I need to redirect my writing focus. Some would say that my stuff appeals more to males than females, although I believe women often enjoy a good adventure tale as much as any man. As I was talking about my books, the eldest lady there, who was probably in her sixties, commented that Cold in the Light sounded like her kind of book, and she bought a copy after. I told her it was pretty gory so I hope she doesn’t blanche too hard when she gets to some of the slaughtering.

One thing I talked about was how it’s OK to open books with what I call “Quick” suspense, but that to keep the reader very long you soon have to introduce “Slow” suspense. Quick suspense is when you open with an action scene like: someone (often a child) is trapped in a burning building and another person is rushing into the flames to try to save them. Although the reader may be caught by this scenario, they won’t be held long because they don’t know anything about the characters. Slow suspense comes about when people care about the characters, and then anything—even something small—that threatens the character will create suspense.

Under certain circumstances, the kind of Quick suspense I just described can also produce a sense of Slow suspense. But only if the reader already knows and likes the character. This means that sequels or series can have a built in advantage in the suspense department. At least it seems so to me.

I’ll leave you with a couple of pics of my talk. I tried to get Lana to photoshop some pictures of folks like Steve Malley and Wayne Allen Sallee and Sidney Williams into the seats to make it look like my audience was bigger, but she said her computer couldn’t handle the visual overload. I understand. I understand.


Lana Gramlich said...

I would have Photoshopped you into the middle of a packed stadium of screaming fans, but I don't have Photoshop, actually. *L*
It's always interesting to come watch you speak, baby. I'm sure the years of teaching had an effect, but you seem like such a natural.

ivan said...

Oh dear.

Organizers of a recent anti-poverty lobby group were looking for "an impoverished senior" to adress a group of the lame and bare-assed.
Guess who qualified?
Impoverished Senior. Nearly lame and certaily bare-assed: yours truly.

Since the event was organized by professsional "agit-proppers" I had a slightly larger audience than yours, but the nervousness may have been somewhat the same.

I used some humour, saying that some of us were so poor, we may as well have been in Appalachia, where they smoke fish in the trunks of old Datsuns.
This immediately drew protests from one of the mayors, who was at first offended, but said later, jokingly, "That's my l973 Datsun and I'll smoke all the whitefish in it I want."

I do believe I plied myself on vodka the night before the speech "fer to clear the logjam".

On selling books.
Yep, I've had audiences as low as three.
Happily one of them turned out to be a reporter for the local paper, and this amounted to considerable help in future sales, especially after the review.

Hell of a way to make a living.

Lisa said...

Despite the disappointing turnout, it sounds like a good time anyway. I'd have come if I lived in LA :)

Anonymous said...

Keep pounding away.

SzélsőFa said...

Talking to an audience that is far smaller than expected can be sometimes frustrating. But basically it's not the number of people that counts. I think if you make one serious impact on one person out of a 4-people audience that is much uplifting than if you had an audience of 100, but left the crowd unimpressed.
(Like Lisa, I would have attended, too.)

the walking man said...

The first time I hosted an open mic for poets there were 5 people in the room , two of which were myself and the guy who served the coffee...the last night 18 months later there were 140; so never look at the size of the crowd. I say look at the talent being presented. I am sure you are a talented speaker Charles, and as word gets out (don't hesitate to mention it to your class either) your audiences will grow to capacity.



Angie said...

Bummer, hon. I'll bet you were great, though, and those women will go home and tell their friends to go see you next time.

About the other, yeah, I've heard some editors complaining about that in the past. Some writers read all the advice out there about how incredibly important the "hook" is that they focus all their attention right there, on the first page. They've got some big gosh-wow-ack! adventure type scene to start the story out and then the rest of it just flatlines. :/ The opening is important, sure, but you have to think of the whole story and how the larger structure works.


Bernita said...

I can only say a lot of people missed out in that case.
Sometimes, it's just competition with other concurrent events.
But those people may talk about"this great talk" to other people, and so it goes.
I'm very interested in your "slow suspense" theory and how it is maintained.

Michelle's Spell said...

Sounds like a fantastic presentation. Turn-outs are always so unpredictable -- living in Detroit, I always tend to blame the weather even if its 80 degrees outside. Well, it was a tad too warm for people . . . Larry McMurtry once told a great story in class about having two people come to his book party when his first novel was published, both of them the bookstore employees. There was a magnum of champagne for the even so I'm guessing a good time was had by all!

Charles Gramlich said...

Lana, not much about me is natural honeylambkins. You know that.

Ivan, lol. An interesting focus group you fit into there. Impoverished Senior. And yes, hell of a way to make a living, or not make it.

Lisa, it was kind of fun and I enjoyed it.

Wayne, message heard! :0

Szelsofa, at least I had some audience. I was afraid no one would come.

Mark, 140? I've guest lectured in classes of a few hundred when I was at the U of Arkansas, but since then I've never had an audience nearly that big. I'm still playing to clubs. Really really small clubs.

Angie, I like hooks myself, but the author better give me more to keep me interested. sort of "what have you done for me lately?"

moonrat said...

i was there in spirit!

Miladysa said...

Ditto Moonrat :)

Thank you for the advice on suspense writing - I always find the points you make of benefit.

Shauna Roberts said...

The great thing about talks is that once you have them prepared, you can give them again and again to different audiences. Hope you find opportunities to do so, because it sounds as if it was an interesting talk.

Charles Gramlich said...

Moonrat, I think I saw you wavering around in disembodied form.

Miladysa, glad if it helped.

Shauna, in fact this was just such a "variation on a theme."

Tyhitia Green said...

Wish I was there. Some people don't know what they're missing out on! :*)

Ello - Ellen Oh said...

If I was anywhere near you, I would have been there in a heartbeat! If Lana says you were great, then you were great!

Erik Donald France said...

Congrats for doing the gig. It's a cool thing, regardless of #s.

As for the observations, the Bond tales often start with quick suspense using strangers (who usually are kidnapped or killed), then bring in 007 for the slow suspense. Though no one really expects him to ever get killed, it works.

Steve Malley said...

The key to quick suspense is a victim we can all identify with: the reader doesn't know the characters yet, but she sure as heck knows that saving kittens, puppies and buses full of children is a Good Thing. Or that killing a lonely tourist is a Bad Thing.

Emotions properly polarized, the reader is happy to sort out why it's so important to recover the Guffman Protocol.

And those light crowds happen. I remember comics legends, *LEGENDS* I say, sitting forlorn at their signing tables, just that one creepy kid who kept hanging around and asking them questions...

AvDB said...

At least you had three active audience members. I'd take that any day over a room full of zombies (both real and figurative).

I actually struggled with the beginning of my novel because of the abundance of advice promoting quick suspense. I just couldn't do it. The story couldn't. So, I did it with slow.**

**Disclaimer: I'm not promoting anything to anyone at this point, seeing as I'm seven rejections deep without garnering so much as a twitch of passing interest.

Danette Haworth said...


It's not a small crowd--it's an intimate crowd. Sounds like the ladies liked you!

Jo said...

It sounds like the weather may have had something to do with the turnout. Keep at it. And thanks for the lesson on Quick suspense and Slow suspense.

Charles Gramlich said...

demon hunter, I would have appreciated it for sure.

Ello, you don't think Lana might be just a teensy bit biased? Naw, me either.

Erik, I was thinking of the Bond films exactly when I made the comment about the sequel/series. I remember how they so often open with him in danger, which he escapes in order to start the "real" story.

Steve Malley, yep, I was thinking that idea might be worth a whole post. Some characters raise built in sympathy and this can add immensely to the use of Quick suspense.

Avery, I like quick suspense but it definitely has very very specific limitations. And depending on the genre it might not have to be there.

Danette, all my life I've been liked by women young and old, just not many in the middle (meaning whatever age I happened to have been in at the time and interested in dating.) Thank goodness for Lana, who is actually pretty young come to think of it.

Josie, at least one person today told me they got lost. I believe it. I guess that is also what happened to the other couple of hundred who I know were dying to see me talk.

Cheri said...

Hi my name is Cheri and I wish that I could have attended this particular event for I often have issues with suspense. *waves*

RK Sterling said...

LOL to the photoshop comments. I'd like to see those. If Lana's computer might break, you could always send them to Sidney. After what his computer has done with Stewart, I'm sure it could handle anything. :)

Hey, at least you had some audience. Like you, I would have been afraid that no one would have been there.