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How To Leverage Suspense In Your Script Writing Style

 

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August 10, 2015 6 comments
script writing style

There is one vital ingredient that sets apart scripts that agents and managers love and those they don’t… SUSPENSE. If you want someone to absolutely fall in love with your screenplay, it’s essential you know how to create it.

So, in this post we’re not going to talk about how to create suspense through the usual avenues — dialogue, plot or characters — but how to do it through your writing style.

How To Create Suspense In Your Script Writing Style

If you’ve read the great book Cinematic Storytelling by Jennifer Van Sijll, you may remember her analysis of the “adrenalin shot” scene in Pulp Fiction.

This technique not only generates much more suspense in a scene, but also creates a leaner, more focussed writing style. And who can argue with that? So, let’s see how it’s achieved.

Here’s the script writing style many less-experienced writers might employ when tackling the adrenaline shot scene in Pulp Fiction:

“Vincent holds the needle above his head, ready to plunge it in Mia’s chest.

VINCENT
Count to three.

LANCE
One… Two… Three!

Vincent plunges the needle hard into her chest. Mia’s eyes pop open and she bolts upright, screaming.”

Now, take a look at how Tarantino actually wrote the scene:

“Vincent lifts the needle up above his head in a stabbing motion. He looks down on Mia.

Mia is fading fast. Soon nothing will help her.

Vincent’s eyes narrow, ready to do this.

VINCENT
Count to three.

LANCE
One…

RED DOT on Mia’s body.

Needle raised ready to strike.

LANCE (O.S)
…two…

Jody’s face is alive with anticipation.

NEEDLE in the air, poised like a rattler ready to strike.

LANCE (O.S)
…three!

The needle leaves frame, THRUSTING down hard.

Vincent brings the needle down hard, STABBING Mia in the chest.

Mia’s head is JOLTED from the impact.

The syringe plunger is pushed down, PUMPING the adrenalin out through the needle.

Mia’s eyes POP WIDE OPEN and she lets out a HELLISH cry of the banshee. She BOLTS UP in a sitting position, needle stuck in her chest – SCREAMING.”

The main difference between the two versions is the amount of suspense generated. The first has very little but the second is full of tension. But how does Tarantino create this tension?

To Create Suspense In Your Script Writing Style You Must Extend Time

As Jennifer points out, it’s all about extending time. The first version is closer to real time.

In real life Vincent would take a moment to prepare himself, lift up the needle above his head, wait for Lance’s three second countdown and plunge it in.

This is what happens in the first version, but in Tarantino’s version everything is slowed down, thus increasing the amount of suspense as we wait for Vincent to plunge the needle into Mia’s chest.

He does this by using cutaways and reaction shots of the other characters in the scene.

In Your Screenplay Writing Style, Use Each Line As Shot

And instead of directly mentioning “CLOSE UP”, “MEDIUM SHOT,” or “WIDE” etc. each shot distinctly implies one of these shots.

“Vincent’s eyes narrow.” “The red dot on Mia’s chest.” etc. all serve to increase our anxiety because we’re literally left waiting for it to happen.

By expanding time to create suspense, the writer is letting the audience know this is an important moment in the film.

It’s a great technique to use in those critical scenes such as major act breaks and the climax and is very effective at heightening suspense when needs be.

Script readers, agents, managers, etc. LOVE this kind of writing because it utilizes suspense in such an effective way.

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If you haven’t already done so, pick up a copy of Jennifer’s book, Cinematic Storytelling to learn even more about this technique on how to create suspense in your script writing style.

It’s designed for filmmakers but contains a ton of great info for screenwriters too, and will help you get a recommend from those screenplay readers you next send your script to.

 

6 Comments
  1. Mateen says:

    Thanks for this fantastic article. I was looking for good advice on how to create suspense for ages! Really great stuff!!

  2. Mo says:

    Hello
    I am looking for an agent. My screenplay is horror written for low budget production.
    Thanks.

  3. Harvey Dent says:

    Simple but cool. Thanks SRP.

  4. Claudia C says:

    Really good info here. Thanks for the example.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks Claudia!

  5. Julian says:

    I would like some information on how Aronofsky achieves his stylistic and narrative techniques on the page in movies like Mother and Black Swan. Thank you.

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