Peggy Bechko’s World of Suspense

by Peggy Bechko

Suspense.

That’s the key to a good story. Doesn’t matter if it’s a script or a novel. Suspense is what draws the reader/viewer in and holds on tight.

So is creating suspense one of your skills?

It’s fascinating to watch a real master build suspense and there are many ways. One great example, especially for screenwriters is Alfred Hitchcock. If you haven’t watched his movies you should.

That said, one I’m referring to in particular for his example is a film that wasn’t as well known as his others, called Rope. In it two men commit a murder as the first thing the audience sees, then they hide the body in a big wooden chest in the living room where the pair is about to host a dinner party.

If that set-up doesn’t grab you by the throat you need to check your pulse.

Of course, guests enter the apartment immediately on the heels of the murders stashing the body in the chest. This is true suspense right from the beginning.

The murder might not have been shown, it could have happened off-screen as I understand the original play had it. But Mr. Hitchcock gave it another twist.

Now the audience knows there’s been a murder – it won’t be a surprise at the end – and everyone in the audience is on the edge of his or her seat anticipating when or if the dinner guests will find out they’ve been setting their drinks on the chest that contains a body and that they’ve sat down to dinner with a pair of murderers.

Genius, no? Instead of hiding the fact of the murder and doing the complete set-up with just the dinner guests arriving and the hosts entertaining – saving the ‘big reveal’ for the end the murder was made perfectly plain along with the fact that the body was in the chest.

From that moment on it’s in the air as to what might happen next, where this story can carry the audience.

The imagination of the viewers is set loose like a wild thing. At any moment things can go terribly wrong. It’s like being in on a deadly secret.

Mr. Hitchcock’s brilliance with suspense is showcased in that film. He did what he did with the script because he knew he was exchanging a shock at the end of the film for prolonged, edge-of-your-seat suspense throughout the entire movie. It thrilled audiences then and if you watch it now it’ll thrill you too.

The same thing can be done in a novel as with the script. As a writer of suspense remember not to hold back on information that could create dangerous situations for your characters. Open up. Give that information as soon in your story as you can.

Once it’s out there the reader or watcher with be biting fingernails through your entire story, waiting for ‘the next shoe to drop’, imagining all the ways things can go very wrong and thrilling to your conclusion.

The mystery in that case has become not what has happened to cause the situation, but rather what’s going to happen next!

Seriously. Watch some of Mr. Hitchcock’s films. Steal some of his methods. Then add your own twists for an edge-of-your-seat tale that’ll really get the blood pumping.


Peggy Bechko is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. blog. Learn more about her HERE. Peggy’s new comic series, Planet of the Eggs, written and illustrated with Charlene Brash-Sorensen is available on Kindle. And, while you’re at it, visit the Planet of the Eggs Facebook page and her terrific blog.