Suspense Wikipedia

mystery and surprise

Because of this, we use pieces laid out by the storyteller to predict and anticipate what will happen in a story. We’ll also examine reasons why readers find the suspense genres so appealing, and explore some examples of suspense, surprise, and curiosity to see how they function in driving the story forward. The term “suspense account” can have several different meanings, depending on the context. In the business world generally, a suspense account is a section of a company’s financial books where it can record ambiguous entries that need further analysis to determine their proper classification. In mortgage servicing, the servicer can use a suspense account to park funds temporarily if a borrower has made only a partial payment for that month. In investing, a suspense account is a type of brokerage account where a customer’s proceeds from selling an investment may be recorded until the customer uses the money to invest in something else.

And yet, not fear that drives us to keep turning pages long after midnight, but suspense—the heart-pounding tension between one unexpected moment and another. To develop general uncertainty into suspense, the audience must know what is specifically at stake. Understanding the stakes creates an emotional investment in the outcome. In our video analysis of this opening scene below, we breakdown Tarantino’s directing style and the elements of suspense that Tarantino uses to keep the audience completely hooked. A state or condition of mental uncertainty or excitement, as in awaiting a decision or outcome, usually accompanied by a degree of apprehension or anxiety.

  • Because of this, we can use the pieces laid out by the storyteller to predict and anticipate what could happen in the story.
  • Suspense ensures the reader will have enough interest to continue reading throughout the piece.
  • Despite its mysterious connotations, “suspense” in this case simply refers to the fact that a transaction or its designation in a company’s books has been suspended temporarily, pending some further action.
  • A novel might contain elements of both, especially if it’s a murder mystery.
  • The “simple” kidnap plot goes sideways and with every twist, a happy outcome seems more and more unlikely.

One aspect of frame composition that is used in many suspense films is empty space. When a portion of the frame is left empty, the first effect is a sense of imbalance. Something ismissingand this creates anxiety, even if subconsciously. Almost every department in a film’s production can be used towards sustaining and building suspense. A musical score, sound design, editing, cinematography techniques, and production design can all greatly impact the quality of suspense.


Curiosity generates questions, but without the accompanying pieces of information that allow a reader to predict and anticipate, it doesn’t rise to the level of suspense. We make a promise to our readers, right from the first sentences of a story, by way of genre and reader expectations. What a reader brings to the table is curiosity and a willingness to be satisfied. For example, in a mystery, you’ll need to generate suspicion and provide clues so the reader can solve the crime along with your main character and anticipate the outcome. That said, we’ll use a working definition of suspense as being the anticipation of an outcome—known or unknown, pleasant or dreaded.

It literally ties into something that is hanging, suspended, with an uncertain future. This article will dig into the ins and outs, ups and downs of suspense and demonstrate ways you can use it in your own work. And when it comes to my writing, it’s always been about suspense. Other kids wanted to grow up to be doctors or firemen.

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment re-releases Wolfgang Petersen’s suspense-filled actioner “Air Force One” in a limited edition steelbook. – Elements of Madness

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment re-releases Wolfgang Petersen’s suspense-filled actioner “Air Force One” in a limited edition steelbook..

Posted: Thu, 16 Mar 2023 15:00:00 GMT [source]

In Orson Welles’ famous opening for a Touch of Evil, we know there is a bomb in the trunk. And we wait an excruciating 3+ minutes for the answer. This moment sets up one of the best plot twists of the last decade.

Dramatic irony is also a great way to create suspense in romance novels. For example, maybe one character sends a letter to another; the reader knows that the letter went astray and was never received, but the sender doesn’t know and thinks they’re being ignored. In this case, the writer creates suspense as the reader waits to see how the two characters will react to the misinformation and how they’ll finally come together.


We’ve created a list of the Top 10 scariest movies, where you can see more examples of suspenseful film technique at its finest. How do they use sound design in The Exorcistor in The Haunting? Why is the creature design of The Babadook so chilling? Like sound design, suspenseful musicis a surefire way to create suspense. Music is so effective, in fact, that many filmmakers will rely on it too heavily.

That feeling of intense anticipation can be found in various genres and have an audience leaning forward with their eyes glued to the screen. Understanding what suspense is and how it differs from other states like shock and mystery is essential to putting an audience on edge. It’s not enough to feature these sounds in the film. Watch this scene with your eyes closed and just listen to how the sound is used to create suspense.

Eventually, on the third time we cut back to this shot, our expectations are paid off. Frame composition can also create tension simply by how large or small you capture your subject. All the spectator ever knows is that the briefcase and its contents belong to a mob boss, and it must be returned to him, but a heap of problems ensues in the process. Needs to review the security of your connection before proceeding. In the last article, The Elements of Suspense, I challenged you to come up with a premise for your own mystery or thriller.

How sets can help in building suspense

This mystery creates suspense (in this case, anxiety behind not knowing this mother he’s talking about) which is built on by showing the mother only in shadows, not revealing what she looks like. Hitchcock further creates suspense by the things the mysterious mother says and how she sounds. Finally, the suspense unfolds in a shocking surprise “jump scare” when the mother is finally revealed. As both Hitchcock and Stephen King put it, surprise depends on the visual or unexpected, the nasty, disfigured, grotesque, disgusting, repulsive, revolting, cringing, among others. In my book, I followed this up immediately with literal suspense, as the SUV hung over the edge of pavement destroyed by volcanic flow.

sensory details

For example, story openings often present questions to the reader’s mind, but since the story’s just begun, there’s not much the reader can yet anticipate. The three modalities that entertain a reader and move the story forward are curiosity, surprise, and suspense. While the three are related, they are not synonyms. In a suspense story, you need to create an atmosphere of underlying peril and let your reader know things are not what they seem, dropping hints along the way so they can anticipate the truth under the surface. But if you’re writing a mystery, thriller, or other type of suspense novel, you’ll need to raise the bar. Every kind of story should have some suspense serving this function, whether slated for a New York editor or simply for your own enjoyment.

Elements of Suspense — Building Suspense with Film Technique

Specifically, the contingency, uncertainty, and suspense that characterize laboratory experimentation are every bit as characteristic of mathematical modeling. The amount of money held in suspense account is referred to as the “suspense balance.” That way, when your readers finally do get their cake — the big reveal or resolution — they’ll be ready to gobble it up. Now that we’ve covered structural suspense, let’s get into specifics. The following categories of suspense depend on the genre and style of your book; though they can be combined, you don’t necessarily need all of them. The murderer is not, of course, going to telephone Detective Superintendent Locke and turn himself in.

The audience knows Othello’s wife is completely innocent and Iago is a liar, but Othello does not. Throughout the entire play, the audience cringes with dreadful anxiety because they know Othello is being fooled. This makes it impossible to stop watching, since you are eager to see if Othello falls into Iago’s trap. Think about the last novel you read that really hooked you, that made you want to keep reading all the way to the end. Gradual sensory details are so important to building suspense; this can be seen in movies.

In this video, we break down how Bong Joon-ho sets up the suspense with this moment. The audience should believe the outcome could go either way. In mystery, audiences are often given a limited amount of information.

Making it clear to the the definitive guide to recruiting for accounting firms that a character’s life is at stake heightens their emotional investment and elevates a scene’s suspense. When we do not understand what is at stake, we are simply left with uncertainty and mystery. Suspense can be executed in a variety of creative ways in a variety of genres. However, there are a few fundamental elements of suspense.

Short-term suspense

Despite its mysterious connotations, “suspense” in this case simply refers to the fact that a transaction or its designation in a company’s books has been suspended temporarily, pending some further action. A state of mental uncertainty, as in awaiting a decision or outcome, accompanied by anxiety or excitement. The quality in a work of narrative art, such as a novel or film, that causes the audience to experience pleasurable excitement and anticipation regarding an outcome. For example, at the end of The Girl on the Train (spoilers ahead!), the mysterious suspense is resolved when we learn that Megan was killed by the narrator’s ex-husband.

filmmaking techniques

I believe that by zeroing in on what suspense is and how it works in a story, you can learn to use it in your own writing to enhance the quality of your work. It is useful to have a suspense account, rather than not recording transactions at all until there is sufficient information available to create an entry to the correct account. Otherwise, larger unreported transactions may not be recorded by the end of a reporting period, resulting in inaccurate financial results. No, unlike mortgage escrow accounts, the money in a mortgage suspense account doesn’t earn any interest for the borrower.

It takes patience and intentionality to do it right. Suspense is often a slow burn that utilizes all these elements but tailors them to a specific story. Take a look at the story you are telling and look for opportunities for suspense to hook your audience. In the most pivotal moment of the film, the fired maid mysteriously appears at the door to retrieve something in the basement. Movies that operate on suspense give the audience a more objective perspective. Sometimes, this objective perspective allows the audience to know more information than characters do.

stephen king

Next we’ll look at some suspense examples in literature and ways you can enhance the suspense in your own writing. We’ll look at more examples of narrative suspense below. In Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson , the reader anticipates the outcome of the switching of a black infant with a white infant. Advanced Filmmaking Techniques A visual medium requires visual methods. Master the art of visual storytelling with our FREE video series on directing and filmmaking techniques.

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