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How to Make Your Script Writing Style Leverage 100x More Suspense

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August 10, 2015 19 comments
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How to Make Your Script Writing Style Leverage 100x More Suspense

There is one vital ingredient that sets apart the script writing style of screenplays that sell from those they don’t… SUSPENSE. And this doesn’t only apply to all you thriller and horror writers out there.

If you want a producer or manager to absolutely fall in love with your screenplay—no matter what the genre—it’s essential you know how to leverage suspense in your script writing style.

In this post, we’re going to show you how to do exactly that. But we’re not going to talk about how to create suspense through the usual avenues of dialogue, plot or characters, but through your script writing style.

How to Leverage 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. (Affliate link disclaimer: if you purchase via this link we receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.)

This technique not only generates much more suspense in a scene, but also creates a leaner, more focused script writing style. And who can argue with that?

Let’s see how it’s achieved by comparing the screenwriting style of a less-experienced writer, with a professional screenwriter.

Version #1: Amateur Script Writing Style

Here’s how an amateur screenwriter might approach the scene:

script writing style

Before we take a look at how Tarantino actually wrote the scene, you can also watch it here:


Version #2: Pro Script Writing Style

Now let’s take a look at how a professional screenwriter, in this case, Quentin Tarantino, wrote the actual scene: 

script writing style

script writing style
How to Create Suspense in Your Script Writing Style by Extending Time

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

As Jennifer points out in her book Cinematic Storytelling, it’s all about extending time.

The first amateur script writing 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 3-second countdown and plunge it in.

In Tarantino’s version, though, everything is slowed down, thus increasing the amount of suspense as we wait for Vincent to plunge the needle into Mia’s chest. He takes care to extend the action by frequently employing cutaways and reaction shots of the other characters in the scene.

In contrast, the first version just tells us what’s about to happen, and then it happens. There’s no suspense in the scene because the writer doesn’t give us a chance to worry. The whole thing’s over long beforehand.

Develop a Script Writing Style That Uses One Line As One Shot

Instead of using camera angles, such as CLOSE UP, MEDIUM SHOT or WIDE, etc. each line of description implies each of these shots.

For example, the lines “Vincent’s eyes narrow,” and “The red dot on Mia’s chest,” both increase our anxiety because we’re literally left waiting for it to happen.

This is a great way of expanding time to create suspense, because you’re letting the audience know this is an important moment in the film.

Studio readers, execs, managers and producers love this kind of script writing style because it utilizes suspense in such an effective way and lets them know they’re in the hands of a writer who knows what they’re doing.

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.

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What do you think of this technique to leverage suspense in your script writing style? What techniques do you use? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.

script writing style

19 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!!

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      No problem, Mateen, glad you found it helpful.

  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.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      You’re welcome!

  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.

  6. Gujarat says:

    I can’t believe I only just found this site. I need this it will help my writing style.

  7. arnab says:

    Voila! Got what you gave
    I’ll get down to business
    Thanks would be a token
    Thanks a lot if I may!

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Great, thanks Arnab!

  8. Max says:

    I had a go at putting this technique in my script and it works so well. Thank you Script Reader.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Glad it works for you, Max!

  9. Shannon says:

    Where can I find the Pulp Fiction screenplay online?

  10. Milo says:

    I don’t know what you mean by one line is one shot. Explain please.

  11. Ariana says:

    Wonderful post, this is sure to help my script writing style a lot.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks, Ariana!

  12. amateur guy says:

    Great article… I really didn’t even know it was okay to do that,,, now I feel silly for not knowing:(

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