Alfred Hitchcock points out that if a bomb unexpectantly explodes after five minutes of boring conversation, we have a shocking SURPRISE after the boredom.
If the characters know that a bomb exploded at a nearby cafe yesterday and there MIGHT be another bomb in the city, then we have MYSTERY… and interestingly, Hitchcock was not a big fan of mystery for a great reason. Mystery is intellectual. Suspense on the other hand is emotional. And wouldn’t we rather feel something rather than think about it?
Alfred Hitchcock suggests that nstead of 5 minutes of boredom, we are filled with anxiety and suspense knowing that time is ticking down. “STOP TALKING ABOUT FOOTBALL! THERE’S A BOMB UNDER THE TABLE!”
Keeping secrets creates mystery -an intellectual process.
Suspense, on the other hand, is emotional.
Improvisers spend much of their time creating problems, leaving intellectual puzzles on stage. The audience is often asking, Why did she do that? What caused that?
And when the answer to the mystery is out of reach, improvisers create solutions to end their scenes and stories often disregarding the inner logic of scenes. It’s a rather unfulfilling reality knowing that all danger is controllable and not so dangerous at all.
Suspense is a brave promise seeded in the details of the story. Either you find the solution or you pay the consequences of your failure. Either way, the narrative can be successful.
The following promises set a state of suspense. Imagine if the promises are achieved at great effort to the hero or imagine the consequences of failure. Either way, there’s great potential for engaging scenes.
- We will be married if I survive this war.
- When I win this race I will have enough money to pay for my mothers operation.
- Today will be the day that the world will face its final battle.
Below are a couple of games to play in the development of suspense. (Also, recognize there are more than one type of suspense. Remind me and we’ll talk about that at another time.)
Promises are like ticking bombs that have heavy potential to go off. We wait with heavy expectation for the hammer to fall. When it does, there’s an emotional release. In this game, a heavy suggestion is loaded into the scene. One of the characters will pull the trigger. Everyone will pay the price. But when will it happen and who will be the executioner?