How to Use Suspense in Any Story—Even Comedy

Vik Rubenfeld#AskVik0 Comments

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.

Juno

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!

 

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