Sunday, April 22, 2007


One of these many tomes I've read over the past year talked about the most important kind of suspense being anticipatory suspense (I think it's a few posts back on here actually). I thought, having read that point, that it was good to bear in mind, but like the adage: 'Write what you know', I didn't really apply it generally, but rather I applied it to those moments when I would want to squeeze tension into my works, raise questions, consider plotting, etc...

But, just as 'Write what you know', actually refers to writing about scenarios, descriptions, genres, etc that you know - as in, not just a topic that you know, but try to meld every part of your experiences into a book, because you will be better informed over your choices and topics; Anticipation as a suspense tool doesn't just relate to end of chapter moments, cliffhangers, and the such like. It relates also to use as a distraction, an almost had, almost understood - to keep the info from the character or audience that little while longer.

Anticipation can be used to keep the audience/reader involved by holding off on providing information through the use of distracting characters - taking tangent to what is being discussed through use of new characters introduced to a scene, an outburst, ramping up action, increased tension through sudden developments, one character's agenda over-riding another, etc.

I was watching episode one of Heroes with my wife this morning and I noticed for the first time the use of Anticipation to hold the audience, whether it was opening, ad break, midscene, end.

The use of timing in these matters is crucial, and it goes hand in hand with beats - the use of changing a character or situation's objective. This is also cleverly used to get the writer out of a tight spot, lull in dialogue or action. When the Japanese character, Hiro, stops time and then goes to tell his friend. They play off of each other - Hiro explaining what and how, and his friend disregarding it. Their conversation comes to its end, there isn't really anything left to say, but rather than end the scene there, the writer gets Hiro's boss to intervene and drag Hiro back to his desk - it's kind of Deus ex Machina, but helps to show the environment they're in as well as give the scene a natural end.

Take this example from midway through episode one of Hereoes: where Niki and her son Micah have fled their house. Niki takes Micah to a friends house. He moans about how he hates the place, Niki calms him and rings the bell (key point in the scene regarding setup), she kneels beside her son, waiting for the door to be answered and answers his questions briefly on being in trouble. But then he asks his key question: 'Why'd you break that mirror, mom?' (Sorry, this is from the original script - the scene on tv is slightly different).

Anyhoo - If Niki were to tell Micah the truth, then the cat would be out of the bag. We'd have no more setup, or moments of audience questioning. At the moment Niki knows more than us, and whilst she holds off telling us, we still want to know.

So, how does the writer get out of answering the question? The door is answered - character distraction.

Simple but effective.

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