Angst and Bad Writing Juju

Yet another angst-ridden, as-yet-unpublished novelist’s moment, a frustrated and self-doubting moment, an all-too-familiar and tiresome moment that previously led me to rant against succubus novels. Three posts ago, I mentioned my epiphany about the climax scene. I wrote that scene last week. Now, it feels anticlimactic.

I was so jazzed before I wrote the scene, so what happened? I suspect, though I don’t know for sure, that the answer relates to suspense. I’ve been giving this concept a lot of thought. Here’s what occurs to me:

I might be torturing myself about what constitutes suspense that gets acquiring editors a-drooling. And this may be because I just finished reading the latest crime novel by a bestselling novelist, and this bestseller loves the surprise whodunit twist within a twist within a twist until the plot is wrung dry as dust.

As I’ve come to expect from certain writers, this novel’s culprits were indeed characters who appeared or were mentioned only in passing. They didn’t even merit “subplot character” status. I’ll admit that I was surprised by one of the villains, but that was because I’d forgotten this character existed. The twist felt like bad storytelling juju to me — ham-fisted and too manipulative — yet it got under my skin. This novelist sells; she must be doing something right, right?

(Sidenote: Seems to me I vowed (this post) to read only nonfiction until I completed the first draft. Alas, case in point for reinstating that vow right here, right now: I’m letting another novelist’s trickiness mess with my head. Susceptible, that’s me; hence, the vow.)

Questions to self: Can’t the culprit be a character that readers might actually suspect? Can’t the surprise and suspense stem from unanswered WHYs or HOWs? Can’t the cool thing be the way the disparate puzzle pieces fit together? Given interesting, well-rounded characters, can’t their personal-story resolutions count for as much with acquiring editors as whodunit resolutions?

I’m just asking, that’s all I’m saying, just asking.

P.S. Will get back to the cliffhanger from last Friday later this week — if I can remember where I was heading with that post!

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