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By L. Rust Hills

The vintage guide of brief tale writing, now revised and up to date.

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The formulas for this "formula fiction" were sometimes as cut-and-dried as the famous "boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl" formula that was used over and over again, with only the slightest variations of locale and characterization, in magazine after magazine, year after year. Or the formulas were sometimes wonderfully nebulous, like the almost equally famous "Twelve Basic Plots" (or however many it was), which would present one of the so-called "basic" plots in a single word like SEARCH, then start listing: "Search for identity," "Search for loved one," "Search for the father," and so on.

And then when the tone is altered to appear as a natural element in that concord, it is resolved. Preparation, suspension, and resolution are techniques which can be demonstrated to exist in literature, just as they can be demonstrated in Foreshadowing and Suspense / 35 music. Suspension — or suspense, to use the less pretentious term — is not just a cheap way of hooking the reader, but is rather one of the methods by which "aesthetic pleasure" is created in fiction. The reader's "involvement" in anticipating the fictional resolution is no more at odds with his aesthetic pleasure than is the music lover's as he awaits the harmonious resolution he has been "prepared" for.

When they talk about events of the action it is easy to see ways in which dialogue may help prepare for what follows: the connection may be so direct as a simple statement by a character as to his intentions, or so contrived as an inadvertent slip of speech. But equally useful and certainly more subtle is foreshadowing achieved by an apparently random and irrelevant conversation among characters. Such a conversation — all that reminiscing at the dinner party about the beauty of a dead tenor's voice, for instance, in James Joyce's "The Dead," or the discussion about Lazarus between Porfiri and Raskolnikov in Dostoevski's Crime and Punishment — will invariably have some thematic or symbolic or parallel relationship, in successful fiction, to events that are to follow.

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