Formatting to Build Up Suspense

Clouds just before the rain that is much appreciated,
photo by R de Heer

As I just said on Google+ the news of the day is that it is raining here, after 46 days without a comprehensive drop. IE only 4.5 mm exactly 1 month ago.

True, it is winter.

True, winter is our dry time.

But still, we were in a wet year. By 28th July 2013 we had had 2 metres of rain.

Then ... nothing.

The trouble with that scenario and the increasing carbon dioxide in the air due to global warming, to use its honest definition, when CO2 acts as a fertiliser - is that trees grow lots of fuel. Central Australia is much greener now, we know courtesy of one or another satellite.

The Dry after a big Wet there are always very hot and destructive bush fires.

Much of the Australian bush has evolved to handle regular burns. But even the Australian bush is killed by a cyclonic fire. Not to mention all the animals that die.


Above is the strategy of formatting to increase suspense. Formatting directs the speed of reading by taking advantage of the physical movement of our eyes as we skim along the lines of text.

Flicking from the end of a short sentence down to the beginning of the next one is a more natural move than reading short sentences one after the other along the same line, and is related to what is termed 'saccadic eye movement'.

(I was going to link to a pithy explanation on Youtube or Wikipedia but can't find anything in plain English.)

You can study saccadic eye movement in yourself by staring at a nearby blank surface. Your brain likes patterns and will give you something to stare at.

Mine gives me a black spot. Which then floats along a path until my eyes get tired of not moving. I blink and it all starts again with my little black spot floating along a new path. Often along a lower path.

This action is what the three short sentences pounding away at the main theme in separate paragraphs links into. Finishing with an equally short exclamatory statement.

In this case followed by a rather long sentence (35 words! An absolute no-no in fiction writing) expanding on the theme and repeating the strategy, but with similarly longer sentences (averaging 12 words) The longer sentences this time for variety and because the crisis is over. The fires are a fact.

Formatting helps direct the speed of reading and the building up of suspense.

Simple but effective.


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