Key questions for this unit:

  • What is the difference between suspense, surprise and mystery?
  • How do film makers create suspense?
  • What skills can I use to create a suspense film

Let’s learn from the Master:



How does this work in these clips from Jaws (1975 Steven Spielberg)





Some broad principles for creating suspense – what are the ‘rules’?

Notes taken from ‘Screenwriting Tricks for Authors’ – Alexandra Sokoloff:

1. ASK A CENTRAL QUESTION with your story. e.g. What is going to happen next, who or what is hiding in the dark corner?

2. STAKES. What do we FEAR is going to happen?

A good story makes the stakes crystal clear—from the very beginning of the story.  We know right up front in Silence of the Lambs that there’s a serial killer out there who will not stop killing young women until he is caught or killed. How do we know that? The characters say it, flat out, and not just once, and not just one character.

You need to tell your audience what they’re supposed to be afraid of.

What is scary in the physical environment, in the visual and in the symbolism of the space? How can you use sound to create chills? What is going through the character’s head that increases the danger of the experience?

4. You have to make the audience  CARE. Because if they don’t care about the characters, then they have no personal stake in the scares – they do not feel the fear for the character.

5. You have to layer in all six senses—what it looks, smells, sounds, feels, tastes like—as well as what your characters sense is there, even though there’s no physical evidence for it. You have to create the effect of an adrenaline rush. In a  good suspense scene the pace can actually slow down, so that every detail stands out and every move takes ages to complete.


7. USE INTERIOR MONOLOGUE –  So we know what the character is thinking/feeling


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