Thursday, December 13, 2012
“There is nothing more frightening than a closed door.”
Imagine that you are watching a play or a movie in which a character approaches a closed door, but has no idea what he or she is going to find behind it. Maybe this is Alice in Wonderland and Alice is facing the small door through which the White Rabbit just disappeared. She is curious to follow the rabbit, but uncertain what is going to happen on the other side. What should she do? What is going to happen on the other side? Alice doesn’t know and, if we as an audience are invested in the story, we share in that moment with her because it is familiar to us. We have all been in a position where we are faced with something that is unknown. In that moment we might think: What do I do? What will happen when I do that? We may feel any number of emotions at that point – anxiety, adventure, fear, excitement, or maybe all of those at once! Creating that tension for a character can create a sense of suspense within the audience. That draws them in and leaves them wanting to know more. This is called “suspense”.
At the heart of suspense is the idea put forth in the quote above: when a character is faced with something that is unknown, the audience’s imagination will create a scenario that makes the situation personally suspenseful to them. That is probably why the quote above is often attributed to Alfred Hitchcock, a filmmaker who created some of the iconic horror and suspense movies of the 1950s and 60s. (However, it is not clear that Hitchcock is actually the speaker of this phrase giving the phrase its own unknown quality!) Radio plays have also used this idea to trigger an audience’s imagination. This was important because the audience could only hear the story and had to “see” it in their minds. The audience for your play will be able to both hear and see the action, but using suspense and the idea of the unknown can be useful to keeping them (and in some ways, your characters) invested in the story.
This is related to the idea of “raising the stakes”, which was talked about in a previous post (linked here). When you raise the stakes for a character, you are challenging him or her in the quest to get what they need/want. As I discussed before that might including doing things that a character doesn’t think is possible, but it might also mean having to face something, or someone, whom they are not sure about. That leads me to another thought about silence…
… which I will share in the next post!
And now I have you thinking: What is he going to say about silence? You don’t know, or maybe you might now. Either way, your imagination is running and the thoughts are flying. The suspense is building, but you’ll just need to tune in again next time to find out…
Until then, happy writing!