Hitchcock once said that there’s “no drama in a bomb going off, there’s drama in the anticipation of the bomb going off’. The more the reader anticipates, the more engaged they are. The movie Valkaryie is a good example of anticipation built around a literal bomb going off.
I’m more interested in the metaphoric bomb going off- an explosive incident that releases the stress built up around it. Let’s look at the opening of Liar, Liar. You have a lawyer do nothing but lie for the first ten minutes of the movie.He desperately wants to be a partner in the law firm, and lies like mad to ensure it appens.
He flubs a promise to his son and ex-wife and lies to cover himself. He’s got the biggest case of his life coming up and it’s clear he has to lie like mad to win it. He’s eager to do it. Then his son makes a birthday wish that his lawyer dad would only be able to tell the truth. And it happens. The lawyer can only answer honestly to whatever question is asked of him no matter how much he’d like to lie. But he’s not going to give up his court case and one shot at being a partner.
It’s abundantly clear; that’s a big problem because the only way he can win is to lie. When Jim Carrey is finally in court and compelled to tell the truth, it’s like a bomb about to go off. We’re thrown into a state of anticipation.
Something along the lines of, “this isn’t going to go well” or “how is this going to turn out? ” Liar, Liar created anticipation by having a hero with a clearly defined need that is in direct opposition to circumstances. Most writers fail to develop that need or don’t develop it enough.They don’t show how badly the hero wants the partnership in the law firm. Question: if you more deliberately showed how much the hero needed and longed or something, when that need became blocked, would that throw the reader into a greater state of anticipation? If so, are there ways you can show that need or block more? There are other questions to ask that get you to the core of anticipation. If you made your hero less suited to the task at hand, would that throw the reader might you make your hero less capable, but still likable and fully motivated?Or what ways might you make the problem bigger and even more in direct opposition to the hero’s need? In fact, every problem you are trying to solve, getting the reader to empathize with our hero, clearly defined characters, et cetera, all have the purpose of getting the reader into a state of anticipation. That is the lens to view everything through when trying to make your script better; will the rewrite put the reader into a greater state of anticipation?Look at what puts you in a state of anticipation when watching movies.
See how different genres handle it. I can remember watching Close Encounters. Dreyfuss has gone nuts, driven his family away, and he’s obsessed with a mountain to the point where he recreates it in his living room.
The only problem is, he has no idea what mountain it is or why he’s bsessed with it. An image of the mountain popped up on the tv screen and Dreyfus didn’t notice it. I wanted to Jump out of my chair and tell him to look at the TV.I was totally engaged. I was caught up in his obsession, empathizing with him, feeling what he was feeling and wanting to find out what the mystery of the mountain was. I had been in anticipation of finding out the answer and wanted like mad to know.
I’ll have to watch it again and fgure out what it was about it that did that. Look at what had you thrown into a state of anticipation in the movies that moved you and what it was about the story that got you into that state.