August 13 Writing Tips, Tricks, Thoughts

Birthdays: Alfred Hitchcock (1899), Kamila Shamsie (1973), Tom Perotta (1961), Sharon Kay Penman (1945), Nikolaus Lenau (1802)

Quote: There is a distinct difference between “suspense” and “surprise,” and yet many pictures continually confuse the two. I’ll explain what I mean. 

We are now having a very innocent little chat. Let’s suppose that there is a bomb underneath this table between us. Nothing happens, and then all of a sudden, “Boom!” There is an explosion. The public is surprised, but prior to this surprise, it has seen an absolutely ordinary scene, of no special consequence. Now, let us take a suspense situation. The bomb is underneath the table and the public knows it, probably because they have seen the anarchist place it there. The public is aware the bomb is going to explode at one o’clock and there is a clock in the decor. The public can see that it is a quarter to one. In these conditions, the same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: “You shouldn’t be talking about such trivial matters. There is a bomb beneath you and it is about to explode!” 

In the first case we have given the public fifteen seconds of surprise at the moment of the explosion. In the second we have provided them with fifteen minutes of suspense. The conclusion is that whenever possible the public must be informed. Except when the surprise is a twist, that is, when the unexpected ending is, in itself, the highlight of the story.” 
― Alfred Hitchcock

Tip: Secondary characters should not take over a scene unless there’s a very good reason. They are there to support the main characters or add color to the story, not to be the main reason for the story. If they start to take over, then maybe you’re telling the story from the wrong point of view.

Jumpstart: Pick a famous piece of art or sculpture and write about the artist as s/he was creating it.