The Good Captain in Review

A few weeks ago, The Good Captain, an adaptation of a Herman Melville story for Twitter, finally wrapped up. This story was written by Jay Bushman of The Loose-Fish Project.

The surprising thing about the Good Captain was how quickly it became a thread positively thrumming with tension. At first, it was admittedly a little difficult to follow the story, and I found myself tracking back frequently to make sure I really understood what was going on. But after the first several updates, as the scene was set and the story proper got underway, I began to learn some valuable lessons about tension and pacing.

The lesson is this: Giving your audience only the sparest taste at once with long pauses in between amps up the tension in a story like nobody's business. I should've known this from my Cloudmakers days, of course. That game primarily updated on Tuesdays, and the community would whip itself into a frenzy with anticipation of new content each week. But as it turns out, this effect works with more modest amounts of content, as well, and maybe even better.

That's because the anticipation gives each tiny piece a disproportionate significance. If I had been able to read this story straight through, I would have breezed through sentences like "Now I feel silly and I chuckle at myself. Dziga’s jumpiness must be getting to me." But when it's all I had to add to the story at once, I would find myself sifting through the story in my head word by word, trying to work out where it was all going. Was it foreshadowing? Was it a sign that something was about to happen? Could I take it at face value? What the heck was going on, here?!

And so this medium, tiny bites of story delivered intermittently, provided a fantastic vehicle for delivering incrementally more and more tense bits of story, and then, at the end, unwinding it all in a few short days with the final explanation.

Good work, guys. Can't wait to see your next one.