Creating suspense and drama in a film

I’ve always been interested in the film industry, and have actually done some work composing for short films before. When I was younger, I used to conjure up crazy ideas for movies that could happen, but I was never aware of the screenwriting process. That was until I was in high school, and I learned about the basics of screenwriting in one of my classes. One aspect of creating a script that is very important is that there are many different ways of keeping the audience’s attention or investing them in a story. However, most screenplays have a common used system of creating drama and suspense. An overarching feeling of suspense throughout the film is ultimately what will keep an audience invested. Let me take you through how this is achieved by a screenwriter.

  1. Often, suspense is generated by the plot. In order for the plot the generate suspense, you need a character with a goal. The suspense is created by narrowing the story down to two outcomes: the character either achieves the goal or they do not.
  2. In order for suspense to be created around this goal, there is usually an Opposition, or the “villain” of the script. This “villain” stands in the main character’s way, seeking to prevent them from achieving their ultimate goal. This opposition can be personified by a single character, or could be something larger such as a government, company, or society in general. 
  3. But it is not enough to just have a character with a goal and a villain that stands in their way, some stakes must be created for your main character as well. Throughout a screenplay, it must be defined what a character stands to ultimately lose or gain from what they are working towards. What will the consequences be if the character is to be unsuccessful? In the movie Avengers: Infinity War, if the avengers are unsuccessful in stopping Thanos from acquiring all of the infinity stones, half of the universe’s lives are at stake.
  4. Suspense can also be created locally within a character. This is called inner conflict, when a character is torn between two decisions, or two things that they want. For example, in the Hunger Games series, Katniss is torn between romance with Peeta and Gale, and the audience is drawn in by who she will decide to be with.

4 thoughts to “Creating suspense and drama in a film”

  1. It’s super cool that you’ve written music for short films! Are you planning to incorporate the type of music playing into your script? You said your origin piece was about a breakup and I think a movie script is a great way to explore that.

    I’d be interested to learn more about who the characters are in your script, particularly the hero and villain. I’m also interested in what type of film you’re writing for. Comedy? Drama? Action?

  2. Hi there!

    Based on our little conversation in class, I think this is a super neat way of going about your origin piece. I’m curious on how you went from song to experiment one to here. I’m excited to see how this will play out because I think it seems like a great way of expressing the general theme of your origin! I can’t wait to see how it progresses throughout the next few weeks!


  3. Even though our projects are similar, I think the way we are approaching it is very different and it’s exciting to see that this genre is so malleable! You seem focused on how you can insert suspense into the plot, action, and the story arc, which (props to you) is a huge undertaking. I always marvel (pun intended) about how screenwriters come up with these storylines and I’m really excited to see how you give life to your origin piece and turn lyrics into action!

  4. Hey Nicholas,

    It was awesome to read about your interest in the film industry, especially how you came about screenwriting! It was very cool to read how you have experience in composing short films—that is something I’d really like to learn how to do!

    Although I was not in class today, I first would love to hear about your origin piece and what genre it was, and how you plan to transform it into this script! Next, I would love to hear what kind of movie you are interested in writing about and what role each character is going to play! I’m really excited to see this come together!

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