One of the self-imposed rules I set for myself some time ago was that I wouldn't use the withholding of information to build tension. In other words, I wouldn't end a scene like this:
Burgundee Le Blanc waited in the dark chamber as Piotr's footsteps approached. Piotr had been drinking all night, and now he seemed to be stumbling down the hall, occasionally leaning against the walls for support. When he got to his door, Burgundee could see his shadow obscuring the light that streamed in through the narrow crack near his feet. He fumbled with his keys before turning the lock and entering. Burgundee cocked her pistol and aimed.
According to my rule, if I wrote a scene like this, the next sentence would have to describe whether or not Burgundee hit or miss her target.
My selection of the rule--and really the selection of any rule--was sort of arbitrary. For me, the technique felt too manipulative. Whenever someone did it to me I tended to get angry and give up on the story. (Do you hear that season finale directors?!?!) I guess I didn't like it because it felt like a way-too-effective technique that required way-too-little creativity.
But, to some extent, I have changed my mind.
To some extent.
As I write lately, more and more, I find myself withholding information because revealing that information later seems more effective. It has more emotional power behind it. Some reveals work better if I take more time to set them up and really show why they are so meaningful. I think in some ways this is related to earning my emotions, maybe. Having a scene with someone crying doesn't usually have much emotion involved unless you have already taken the reader through the journey to show all the steps that led the person to cry.
So, if I was writing the scene about Burgundee and Piotr now, it might go something like this:
Burgundee Le Blanc waited in the dark chamber as Piotr's footsteps approached. Piotr had been drinking all night, and now he seemed to be stumbling down the hall, occasionally leaning against the walls for support. When he got to his door, Burgundee could see his shadow obscuring the light that streamed in through the narrow crack near his feet. He fumbled with his keys before turning the lock and entering. Burgundee cocked her pistol and aimed. She had never shot a gun before, but she felt this opportunity was worth the risk. After all, what was the worst that could happen? She could miss, and Piotr could wrestle the gun away from her--he had already overpowered her once the night before. Maybe he would even kill her and ensure that she never tell anybody about him coming into her room and fondling her bedroom slippers. Would death be so bad after what he had done? And there was the alternative. She could miss and get caught and sent to a lifetime of prison, probably sharing the same tiny cell with her evil sister Piminy. She imagined the look on Piminy's face, finally getting the satisfaction of knowing that Burgundee was just as corrupt as she was. Piotr flipped on the light. Burgundee pulled the trigger. The bullet went into his stomach and he doubled over in pain.
So, I could withhold the information if I thought I could use the extra time to give more meaningful information. I try to make up for it by not using the technique in a "cliffhanger" sense, and hopefully the way I construct such a scene doesn't keep a reader from wanting to skip the sentences between Burgundee aiming and Burgundy firing. Maybe that's what I'm getting caught up on. I don't ever want to use filler (either pointless information or blank space) to create tension because readers will probably grow impatient due to the junk I'm feeding them. Instead, if I withhold information I want it to be because it helps the reader by getting them set up to better understand the situation and feel the power of what's happening.
Anyway, I do find this to be a different way of working. Often, lately, I'm breaking up scenes and trying to put good material in between so that the reader gets more emotion when the scene's true end finally does occur. And I try to do it in a way that doesn't feel like I'm dangling any sort of carrot. I don't necessarily want the reader to feel the tension as a result of my withholding. The tension should come in other ways.
In other news, I finally solved a problem I've been having in Chapter 3 of Cyberlama. In my revisions, I kept skipping over this section because it was so very boring, and I didn't know what to do about it. But this week, I took the two women involved out of the tea room where the scene used to take place and moved them to the National Aquarium of Baltimore. Then, instead of having them part ways, I have one woman invite the other woman to her apartment where they both kind of get naked. Go me!