How Do You Keep a Reader in Suspense?

arrival Mar 21, 2017

I’ll tell you next week.

Open Culture posted a few articles about Alfred Hitchcock a couple of weeks back. This one discusses how the master of suspense did his suspense-mastering.

The “ticking clock” is obviously how it’s done, but it’s interesting to hear Hitchcock talk about making sure the bomb never goes off. Interesting enough that my contrarian side, always a source of trouble, immediately wanted to go set a clock off.

I also immediately thought of Arrival, one of my favorite movies. Arrival’s ticking clock has no numbers. One of the superpowers is going to lose patience and attack the aliens if we don’t figure out how to communicate with them, but we don’t know when their patience will run out. There’s a deadline, but no clock, just a sword of Damocles, waiting to fall.

This is real suspense. Arrival has almost no action. It’s an “old-fashioned” movie that relies on story and not spectacle to entertain.

If you’ve seen it, watch Nerdwriter’s brilliant review below. It will make you want to see it again. If you haven’t, please watch it  (it’s easy to find online) and then come back and watch the

If you haven’t seen Arrival yet, please watch it  (it’s available where fine movies are streamed) and then come back and watch this review. There are spoilers here. You will thank me.

It’s no coincidence, of course, that a review that discusses masterful movie making mentions Hitchcock within the first 90 seconds.

The story I am working on right now has a ticking clock with no numbers. I didn’t realize that until I saw the Hitchcock video. I know now to accentuate some of that suspense a bit.

Both of these videos helped me learn how to understand suspense. How about you?

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