Tag Archives: Suspense

Writing a Page-Turner

A boy reading a book

The Page-Turner:

It is every writer’s dream to write a novel or script that the reader simply can’t put down until the last page. But how do we go about achieving this admirable goal? Below are some suggestions.

Include hooks whenever possible: A hook is an action or event that draws us into the story in an compelling way. Use hooks to kick-off your story, as well as to bolster interest at the beginning or end of your scenes, that may otherwise be lagging.

Write with attitude: Use punchy, or concrete language, depending on the subject matter, that bristles with attitude. Middle-of-the road, or non-comital language is boring and trite. What is the writer’s point of view of the events being described? What are the characters’ attitude? Make sure attitudes are strongly revealed.

Write in a way that creates suspense: The famous film director, Alfred Hitchcock, was renowned for creating suspense in his movies. He said that surprise lasts for a few seconds, but suspense may carry the whole scene, or even the entire movie.

Create Anticipation: Anticipation causes us to want to know what the next action, event, or outcome of a situation is likely to be. It differs from suspense in that it does not necessarily involve a threat, or danger. Anticipation may be introduced in dialogue, through a character talking about a forthcoming event, in a conversation with another, or through a major story goal being set—such as the hero winning or failing to win the race at the end of the tale.

Create Uncertainty: Introduce uncertainty about the outcome of specific events, your Hero’s ability to achieve her goal, or the way the story will end. The reader will keep turning the pages in order to find out.

Write with emotion: Writing with emotion means that your characters makes us feel their joy, pain, and sensitivity as if they were our own. My mentor, the South African film director, Elmo De Witt used to say that a story without emotion is a story that doesn’t get read. He couldn’t have been more right. Inject emotion into your writing and watch those pages turn.

Although there are others, these six simple techniques, deftly handled, will help to turn your story into a page-turner that readers will find hard to put down.

Summary

Hooks, attitude, suspense, anticipation, uncertainty, and emotion are six ways to inject interest and fire into your stories. Use one or more of these techniques whenever possible.

Invitation

If you enjoyed this post, or have a suggestion for a future one, kindly leave a comment and let’s get chatting. You may subscribe to this blog by clicking on the “subscribe” or “profile” link on the right-hand side of this article. I post new material every Monday.

How to Write Powerful Endings

Ticket showing "End of the Line"

The End

Powerful endings don’t just happen. They are the result of careful and inspired preparation implemented from the first page of your manuscript. The best endings are as surprising as they are inevitable — in hindsight. This post offers five techniques, chosen from an assortment of others, for making your story endings more memorable.

1. Enhance the Reputations of the Protagonist and Antagonist

Stories are about the antagonist and protagonist involved in a life and death struggle to achieve/prevent the story goal. Enhancing the reputation of these two essential characters ups the ante and leads to a more engaging and tense ending. In Unforgiven, William Munny (Clint Eastwood), the protagonist, is described by the opening titles as “a known thief, murderer, a man of notoriously vicious and intemperate disposition” and later is described by The Kid as “You the same one that shot Charley Pepper up in Lake County? (…). You’re the one who killed William Harvey and robbed that train in Missouri.” Likewise, the antagonist, Sheriff Little Bill (Gene Hackman), is described by a deputy as being fearless, having grown up in tough circumstances and survived. He is also seen beating English Bob, a hardened murderer, within an inch of his life. His toughness and cruelty enhances his reputation as a feared antagonist.

2. Cast Doubt about the Final Confrontation

The more we doubt the ability of the protagonist to achieve his goal by defeating the antagonist, the more we root for his success, and the more we fear for his failure. When we first meet William Munny we find him slipping and falling amongst the pigs in the pen. The Kid says of him: “You don’t look like no rootin’ tootin’ cold blooded assassin.” And later, it takes Munny four shots to get the first cowboy. Compared with Little Bill’s ruthless skills, this makes us fear for his survival against the Sheriff.

3. Shift Direction

Introducing twists which take us away from our expectations – from what is needed for the protagonist to achieve the goal – causes us to wonder and worry about the outcome. Little Bill beats up William Munny at the saloon, and Munny spends three days hovering near death. The Kid remarks that Munny is useless. Munny hardly appears as a man who will fulfill his contract and succeed in standing up to Little Bill.

4. Further Increase Suspense Around the Final Confrontation

When Munny is told that Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman) has been beaten to death by Little Bill, he knows that he has to go back and revenge his death. He knows that this might well result in his own death since he tells The Kid “Here, take this money and give my half and Ned’s half to my kids.” Munny’s own belief in the outcome of the confrontation increases the suspense and makes us fear about his survival even more.

5. The Final Confrontation Occurs in The Antagonists’s Stronghold

Facing the antagonist in his own lair, strengthens the antagonists’ and weakens the protagonists’ position. Munny faces Little Bill in the Saloon, surrounded by Little Bill’s deputies, henchmen, and supporters. This weighs heavily against Munny and makes it unlikely that he will survive the confrontation.

Summary

Planing a powerful ending involves seeding a number of elements at various points along the story that increase the tension and make the likelihood of the protagonist prevailing over the antagonist unlikely. Enhancing the reputation, casting doubt about the final confrontation, constantly shifting direction in expectation, further increasing suspense around the final confrontation, and having the climactic scene occur in the antagonists’s lair, are some of the most important techniques in achieving this.

Invitation

If you enjoyed this post, or have a suggestion for a future one, kindly leave a comment and let’s get chatting. You may subscribe to this blog by clicking on the “subscribe” or “profile” link on the right-hand side of this article. I post new material every Monday.

What is Exposition?

One of the most difficult things to do well in writing is to integrate exposition (essential information without which the reader/audience is lost), in a way that maintains the momentum of your story. Halting the narrative flow in order to provide a detailed background about a character or event is sure to lose you momentum. Yet, supplying detailed information is often unavoidable. The usual way to establish back-story, reveal plot, and explain character motivation, is by way of dialogue, whether directly through declaration, or indirectly through hint, implication, and subtext. Sometimes, however, these techniques are either too delicate, or not delicate enough, to carry the full burden of information. Dramatizing exposition by tying it to a structurally important event such as an inciting incident, turning point, or a character reveal, is one way of ensuring that forward momentum is maintained.

Inglorious Basterds

In Inglorious Basterds, a film written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, Colonel Hans Landa’s (Christoph Waltz) reputation of ruthlessness and Machiavellian intelligence is essential in building him up as a fearsome Nazi antagonist. The inciting incident occurs when Colonel Landa arrives at a dairy farm in the French countryside in search of the Dreyfuses, a missing Jewish family, who he suspects is being sheltered in the area. Landa quizzes the dairy farmer, monsieur LaPadite (Denis Menochet) about the possible whereabouts of the Dreyfuses, claiming this to be the last step before he closes the book on their case. While the interrogation provides an ideal opportunity for exposition, Tarantino’s handling of it is nothing short of masterful. In having Colonel Landa ask that LaPadite sketch-in the Colonel’s own background, Tarantino infuses the scene with additional tension, irony, and ramps up the stakes — all without interrupting the forward thrust of the story:

Landa: Now, are you aware of the job I’ve been ordered to carry out?
LaPadite: Yes.
Landa: Please tell me what you’ve heard.
LaPadite: I’ve heard that the Fuhrer has put you in charge of rounding up Jews left in
France who are either hiding, or passing as Gentile.
Landa: I couldn’t have put it better myself. Are you aware of the nickname the people of France have given me?
LaPadite: I have no interest in such things.
Landa: But you are aware of what they call me?
LaPadite: I am aware.
Landa: What are you aware of?
LaPadite: That they call you, “The Jew Hunter”.
Landa: Precisely. I understand your trepidation in repeating it (…). Now I on the
other hand, love my unofficial title, precisely because I’ve earned it.

Landa’s dialogue reveals that he is a cunning interrogator, entrusted by the Fuhrer to ferret out Jewish families hiding in France. His pride in his job is obvious. This is a man who enjoys manipulating, hunting, and killing — an antagonist whose back-story makes him a worthy opponent for any protagonist. In designing the exposition in this manner, Tarantino accomplishes several things:

1. He transforms the mere flow of background information into dramatic irony by forcing LaPadite, who is afraid for his family, to talk about the feared and hated Landa in neutral terms.
2. It provides important information about Landa’s job in France, and the reason for his being in LaPadite’s house.
3. He establishes Landa’s reputation as the Fuhrer’s feared henchman.
4. Finally, it allows him to illustrate Landa’s vanity in his own reputation, deepening and colouring the Colonel’s character.

Summary

Exposition should be much more than the mere communicator of background information. Crafted well, it is an opportunity to deepen character, contextualize plot, and move the story forward.

If you’ve enjoyed this post, or have any questions regarding it, please drop me a line in the comment section and let’s get chatting.