In his book, Writing Screenplays that Sell, Michael Hauge reminds us that when a character or event is not fully explained from the outset, or the hero seeks the answer to some question or mystery not yet provided by the text, the reader keeps turning the pages in search for answers.
Whodunit murder mysteries obviously rely on our insatiable curiosity to discover the identity of the killer, a curiosity that increases with each red herring.
But less obvious examples include strange objects and actions, such as the recurring motif of the peculiar mountain in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, or the reason behind Gatsby’s parties in The Great Gatsby.
The longer the writer withholds a secret the more satisfying the revelation has to be.
In Silverado, the Kevin Kline character, Paten, is constantly asked, “Where’s the dog?” We have no idea of what dog the characters are talking about, and why it is so important.
But towards the end of the film we discover that Paten was once captured during a robbery because he took time out to try and rescue a dog. This does not only satisfy the audience’s curiosity over the unanswered question, it increases our sympathy for Paten, too.
Although the technique is not sufficient, on its own, to carry the entire weight of the story, used in concert with other structural devices such as turning points, pinches, and the mid-point, it does propel the tale towards its climax and resolution in a more compelling way.
To prevent your story from flagging, pose a series of questions at strategic points.
Image: Holly Victoria Norval