How Do You Keep a Reader in Suspense?

I’ll tell you next week.

Open Culture posted a few articles about Alfred Hitchcock a couple of weeks back. This one discusses how the master of suspense did his suspense-mastering.

The “ticking clock” is obviously how it’s done, but it’s interesting to hear Hitchcock talk about making sure the bomb never goes off. Interesting enough that my contrarian side, always a source of trouble, immediately wanted to go set a clock off.

I also immediately thought of Arrival, one of my favorite movies. Arrival’s ticking clock has no numbers. One of the superpowers is going to lose patience and attack the aliens if we don’t figure out how to communicate with them, but we don’t know when their patience will run out. There’s a deadline, but no clock, just a sword of Damocles, waiting to fall.

This is real suspense. Arrival has almost no action. It’s an “old-fashioned” movie that relies on story and not spectacle to entertain.

If you’ve seen it, watch Nerdwriter’s brilliant review below. It will make you want to see it again. If you haven’t, please watch it  (it’s easy to find online) and then come back and watch the

If you haven’t seen Arrival yet, please watch it  (it’s available where fine movies are streamed) and then come back and watch this review. There are spoilers here. You will thank me.

It’s no coincidence, of course, that a review that discusses masterful movie making mentions Hitchcock within the first 90 seconds.

The story I am working on right now has a ticking clock with no numbers. I didn’t realize that until I saw the Hitchcock video. I know now to accentuate some of that suspense a bit.

Both of these videos helped me learn how to understand suspense. How about you?

Please Awesome This and Share

How has Facebook’s “like” button changed the world? Is it responsible for the spread of inaccurate news and that thing that happened in November? Has it become so far detached from the simple concept of “liking” something that it’s become downright counterproductive and maybe even dangerous?

Leah Pearlman is one of the people that came up the idea behind the button (which she called the “awesome button” for awhile.) She’s since left the company and makes excellent webcomics.

It’s interesting to read how she uses Facebook in this article:

Leah Pearlman has grown wary of Facebook. The 35-year-old illustrator uses the social network to promote her business, Dharma Comics, but has set up various safeguards to avoid becoming too emotionally invested in the happenings on the site. She uses a web browser plug-in called News Feed Eradicator, which replaces the social network’s endless stream of status updates, auto-playing videos, and advertisements with a single inspiring quote.

The Like button was intended to give users a quick way to indicate that they, well,  like something without having to write a comment. However, given how Facebook’s real raison d’etre is to mine data about what we share and what we read, it’s turned into the pivot point for a circle jerk.

But the place where Like diverges from typical human vanity is the way it powers Facebook’s increasingly omniscient News Feed algorithm. Facebook takes into account thousands of factors to determine what posts to prioritize in people’s feeds, but Like is one of the most straightforward ways that users convey positive sentiment to the company’s algorithms. A Like isn’t just a digital pat on the back — it’s an ambiguous upvote that drives a piece of content to more eyeballs. Like is presented as a simple, rewarding interaction point, but the ways in which it dictates what we see are opaque.

We see things because our friends like them, we like them because our friends liked them, then more friends see them, and so it goes.

Vonnegut would have a field day with this.

I remember when Facebook changed the timeline from chronological to whatever the hell it was then. Since then they’ve further tweaked the super secret algorithm they use for showing us what we see.

At some point, my suspicion that they hold their users in contempt became a conviction.

Like many people, my feelings about Facebook are decidedly mixed. It’s a good place to keep track of friends and share interesting links, photos, etc. , but at the same time, it can be a pretty ugly place, and Facebook-the-company’s goals and motivations become more and more evident as time passes.

I’m going to need Facebook when it comes time to sell books, but I wish I could find a better way to stay in touch with friends.

I honestly think Twitter is a better tool for staying in touch and sharing links and images because it provides you what you ask for in chronological order with no filter. But “no filter” requires the ability to ignore or at least tolerate things that one doesn’t like and accept criticism and dissenting opinions. If you’ve spent any time on Facebook, you’ll know that doing that is just impossible for too many people. (And it’s also threatening to kill Twitter.)

(By the way, Open Culture has instructions on how you can tweak your news feed if you are not ready to go the full feed eradicator route.)


Thinking is Hard

Veritasium is another favorite Youtube channel of mine.

Check this out. It’s long but well worth 12 minutes if you ever find yourself needing to use your brain for something more than a place to rest your hat.

“You have to be willing to be uncomfortable,” Muller says.

So what sounds like a quote from a self-help book has some scientific reasoning to it. The very act of slowing things down and focusing on them, makes our brain process them differently.

This difference explains why taking notes with a pen results in better retention than with a computer or even a phone for me. I find writing by hand to be very difficult due to several hand injuries, while typing is nearly effortless for me since it’s been a part of the day job for close to thirty years now. (Although I am starting to get some discomfort in one hand, but I don’t like to admit it, so nevermind.)

Subscribe to this Youtube channel. You won’t be sorry.


A Short Film Based on Yeats

When You Are Old

When you are old and gray and full of sleep
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace, 5
And loved your beauty with love false or true;
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face.

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how love fled 10
And paced upon the mountains overhead,
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

I have nothing to add.

Making it Hard for Everyone

If you follow my twitter feed, you know that commuting from New Jersey to New York is terrible. Especially if you have the misfortune of needing to take the bus.

There are a couple of reasons for this, the primary two being NJ Transit, which is simply a poorly run organization, and the Port Authority Bus Terminal, a decaying, trash-filled, cesspool, that is far too small for the amount of traffic it fails to accommodate every day.  I could go into the reasons why things are like this (the main one being the worst sitting governor in the country), but that’s a different rant.

One of the other reasons why the commute is so painful is that people don’t know how to commute well. Commuting well requires recognizing that other people are there with you.  It means understanding that they need to get somewhere soon too. You’re not special.

Empathy and self-awareness. Both of them. At the same time. Not easy for some, it seems.

There’s a life lesson there, isn’t there?

At times I am tempted to draw generational distinctions, and then someone apparently my age or older acts like a self-centered idiot, and I realize that age has nothing to do with it. Neither does rap music, comic books, watching American Idol, taking too many selfies, understanding Snapchat, or playing video games.

Assholes are just assholes. It’s universal.

So yesterday (last week for you) I saw a prime example.

When we board the bus to go home,  we enter a door at the end of our gate and walk a short and narrow strip of sidewalk. Our bus line is very busy and chronically over-crowded in both directions, so the gates, and this tiny strip of sidewalk, always has a lot of people on it.

This tiny strip of sidewalk is also outside of the gate, in a bus terminal that’s full of loud buses that are coming and going.

So naturally, this is where more than a few people think they should stop and call their significant others.


This is screamed into the phone. But it’s so loud outside of the gate that it sounds faint even to the fellow traveler that is trying to squeeze past the narcissistic, self-interested, idiotic, moron that couldn’t have made the call, well, any other time then while (s)he and sixty other people are trying to get on a bus.

And my favorite:


No shit? Really? Then what makes you think they can hear you?

What strikes me about this is that it makes it hard for everyone: the other passengers, the idiot on the phone, and the poor person on the other end of the phone.

Do you have to commute to work? What makes it fun for you?

Monday and Stuff

I think one of the worst aspects of Daylight Savings Time is all of the stories about how bad it is and how everyone hates it. If only we could do something…

Been busy putting things together for Camp NaNoWriMo and so forth. Are any of my writer friends participating?

Is everyone on the East Coast ready for the latest Snowmageddon?

I’ll have more of a post tomorrow.

Friday Music: The Lumineers

The Lumineers tend to put me in a good mood, regardless of what’s going on.

There’s an awful lot of over-produced music around, and that’s coming from a guy who listens to prog bands like Genesis, Rush, Yes, and Pink Floyd.

The Lumineers sound like a bunch of folks that are having a good time.


It’s better to feel pain, than nothing at all
The opposite of love’s indifference
So pay attention now
I’m standing on your porch screaming out
And I won’t leave until you come downstairs

They can write.

Have a good weekend.

Still The Best Star Wars Movie

The Empire Strikes Back is the best of the seven Star Wars movies so far, and probably forever, regardless of how many more Disney makes.

This fan made trailer reinforces that, I believe.


And his latest trailer makes an even stronger case.

Why do I think it’s the best? I’ll let Dante tell you. He nails it:

And he wasn’t even supposed to be there that day.

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