When talking about suspense, the first things most people think of are spine-tingling moments in action movies and thrillers. But suspense is key to the success of every kind of story—even comedies.
Here’s an example from Anchorman 2:
The video used to be on YouTube, but has since been removed. If you have seen the movie, or plan to see it, it’s the scene early in the movie where Ron gets fired.
Ron is fired—now how will he recover? Viewers are in suspense, waiting to find out.
Here’s the first scene from Superbad (warning: super-offensive language. But funny.):
Notice how it sets up that these two guys are very tight best friends and that they don’t know how to go out with girls yet—and then reveals that their friendship will be broken up soon because they’re going to different colleges. Evan’s mom says “I can’t imagine what you two are going to do without each other next year.” Now viewers are in suspense waiting to see if these two guys will get their lives together before that happens.
Here’s a scene from the beginning of Juno:
INT. LEAH'S HOUSE - BEDROOM - NIGHT LEAH's room is cluttered with the sentimental junk that certain girls love to hoard. The PHONE rings. LEAH (answering phone) Yo-yo-yiggity-yo. JUNO I am a suicide risk. LEAH Is this Juno? JUNO No it's Morgan Freeman. Got any bones that need collecting? LEAH Only the one in my pants. JUNO (in low tones) Dude, I'm pregnant. LEAH Maybe it's just a food baby. Did you have a big lunch? JUNO It's not a food baby. I took three pregnancy tests today. I am definitely up the spout. LEAH How did you even generate enough pee for three pregnancy tests? JUNO I drank like ten tons of Sunny Delight. Anyway, yeah. I'm pregnant. And you're shockingly cavalier. LEAH Is this for real? Like for real, for real? JUNO Unfortunately, yes. LEAH Oh my God! Oh shit! Phuket Thailand!
Now viewers are in suspense waiting to see how Juno is going to deal with this and how it will affect the rest of her life.
By putting viewers in suspense, authors keep the audience on the edge of their seats, waiting to find out what is going to happen next.
Whether you are writing drama or comedy—whether you are writing a novel, screenplay, or a TV episode—suspense is the key to keeping your audiences glued to the page or screen!