a writer's blog

Foreboding, Part I

collateral tales

collateral tales

If you carefully check genre fiction, especially horror and thriller, you will find a collection of devices to create suspense before anything terrible happens, devices best described as foreboding techniques.

The most obvious (and crude) of which would be the digression: part of a chapter, or a smallish chapter on its own, which narrates activities the characters cannot possibly know, because these activities are remote in terms of time, in terms of place, or both.

Okay, not always are they crude. Experienced writers—think Clive Barker, Craig Thomas, or, of course Stephen King—take these “device” narratives and develop them into well-formed threads in their own right. This takes quite some skill, so be careful with this.

Why careful? Because I’ve seen this technique used by aspiring writers who are not yet able to handle the intricacies of several narrative side threads that can stand on their own feet, and do not impede the main plot line in some way or other. And they use this technique in order to try and square the circle, nothing less. On the one hand, they want to narrow down the perspective—down to a reasonable set of characters, or even a single character. There are good reasons for that: the more omniscient the perspective, the harder it gets to put the reader into the characters’ skins, and the harder to build up suspense. On the other hand, as long as the narrative’s still busy with exposition, these aspiring writers want to broaden the perspective extensively and throw in a stick of dynamite from that lofty heights, to build suspense early on, and to keep the reader at it. Hence, the foreboding, hence, the digression. And as a welcome side effect, such digressions themselves don’t need much in the way of exposition, thankfully, because they’re supposed to be somewhat on the cryptic side, aren’t they.

As you can see, this isn’t what you’d call “transparent” in the sense that readers don’t notice, but “transparent” in the sense that they can “see through” this device without effort.

So what should you do? Well you should make your exposition interesting, for starters! If you do that, you don’t need any dirty tricks to keep your readers turning the page, and the next page after that. And of course you can’t make your exposition interesting and captivating if you go about explaining things. I think I mentioned that.

More on foreboding soon.


If you have something valuable to add or some interesting point to discuss, I’ll be looking forward to meeting you at Mastodon!

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