From the fantastic Axletree Media Blog! axletreemedia.am/blog
There are a lot of movies with scenes that can make you jump out of your seat. Some event happens unexpectedly and dramatically that surprises the audience. But in the world of storytelling, surprise really isn’t that difficult to generate. You just jump out from behind a corner and yell “BOO!” Suspense on the other hand is a little more elusive. But suspense will always amplify the surprise even if the audience knows it’s coming. Alfred Hitchcock, who was a master at generating suspense, once said, “There’s no terror in the bang, only the anticipation of it.” Think for a moment to a movie or book where it felt like one of the characters was walking into certain doom or (figuratively) playing carelessly on the edge of a cliff.
You know something bad might happen, you just don’t know when. And you’re not about to go get popcorn or stop reading until you find out.
Suspense is a fantastic storytelling device. It keeps the audience engaged as the storyteller steadily increases the pressure and then releases a little pressure only to amp it up again. If you think about good page turner novels this is typically what’s going on. The reader is held in a state of tension and looking for release and resolution of the suspense. From a physiological state, the people in the audience are getting surges of adrenaline followed by releases of endorphins, otherwise known as a “runners high.” Biologically, it makes you feel great.
But something to keep in mind is though suspense is typically associated with horror or mystery stories, it really doesn’t have to fit into those genres. In its most basic form, suspense is simply presenting a situation/question that the audience wants answered and then prolonging that answer. Good suspense dances around the answer but never reveals it until the appropriate time. It keeps the audience guessing on what’s going to happen next by presenting new questions and dilemmas just before offering resolution to the last question or dilemma.
Here’s my advice. Learn how to incorporate suspense into your stories. Whether it’s a video for the youth or a sermon, don’t give away the ending at the beginning. Instead of starting off with publicly stating that this is a video or sermon about topic X, start out with a question that could lead more than one direction and then lead your audience a little further into the story and then pose a second question and then perhaps even a third. Masterful storytellers will wrap an audience up into a journey and hold them there. The audience is transfixed, but completely unsure of where they’re going. Supply them clues and then redirect to keep them second-guessing. If you do your job well, then your audience is perfectly prepped to listen to the conclusion of the story and absorb the lessons to be learned. And if you do these things consistently, your audience will be back for more.