There is a universal truth among all screenwriting genres. No matter what genre you specialize in, to maintain audience attention you must carefully construct and accumulate suspense throughout the entire story. Suspense does not only belong in nail-biting action flicks or scream-inducing horror movies. Rather, this term refers to the art of keeping story plots unpredictable and character emotions under-the-radar until the perfect release point.
Surprising audiences through suspense guarantees screenplay attention as this skill provides a true entertainment value to scrips; something all agents and producers thirst after.
Establishing and Building Suspense
There are two steps required to begin this screenwriting technique. The first is establishing suspense. This may be done through a variety of methods and to various degrees of seriousness. While the method in which screenplay suspense is established dramatically varies according to the type of story you’re telling and your personal screenwriting form. Regardless of these variables, establishing and building suspense suspense must follow these foundational truths:
Create an Emotional Connection – Suspense doesn’t refer to high-action or extreme dramatics. Rather, establishing screenplay suspense is done through opening an emotional channel between the audience and necessary characters. Cultivating characters that immediately require the physical and emotional attention of viewers instantaneously sets the ground work for suspense building.
Release Vital Information at Vital Times – The release of story information is a carefully calculated technique. Selecting, and more-importantly releasing in a non-traditional manner, builds upon the emotional connection created earlier in the story. By adding intensity or intrigue to this connection through a specific sequence of information release, you’ll instantly create a ballooning ball of suspense.
Choose Opposite Choices – Does a situation within a story have a standard response or emotional reaction? By standard I’m referring to stereotypical responses, or reactions that audiences wouldn’t expect. The most effective way to build suspense is to apply character choices that are opposite of what viewers would imagine the character would make.
The Climax of Suspense
Just as a volcano, as the magma of a script bubbles and inches its way toward the peak, it becomes more violent and unpredictable. The only predictable sequence is the eruption. Throughout the entire screenplay you’ve been navigating magma up through the shaft. Finally, at the conclusion of your story, this pressure is released through the almighty climax. It’s at this point all tension is released and audiences are given the gift they’ve been patiently waiting for. This is among the most important moments within a screenplay, and one of the most subjective. Therefore, it’s nearly impossible to provide an all-inclusive guide. The following tips should be taken at face-value, and if possible, applied to your screenplay.
Unpredictability – The most important screenwriting technique to apply while constructing the climax is to maintain the sense of unpredictability. Throughout the script, hopefully your characters have made unpredictable choices and emotional changes. This sense of the unknown has carried audiences, therefore maintain this level of suspense until the very end.
Leave Questions – Don’t attempt to answer every question raised during the film. Leaving audiences pondering certain story elements leaves them satisfied, even through they weren’t provided with conclusions for every element they’ve invested in; however, be selective with what elements you choose to leave unanswered.