How to Add Suspense to Your Story to Grab Your Audience

May 24, 2020

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If you’re looking to get your audience’s attention, one of the best ways to do it is to add suspense to your story.

Thumbnail - How to add suspense to your stories featuring Story Expert Jason Reid.

Many people confuse the idea of suspense with surprise. Here’s the difference between the two, as well as the primary way to add suspense to your story.

Suspense vs. Surprise

Surprise is when something dramatic happens in your story without warning. Not only is the audience surprised but the character in the story is ALSO surprised at the same time. 

Let’s contrast this with the idea of suspense. In suspense, you let the audience know of a danger that character IN the story doesn’t realize yet.  This makes every small moment in that scene dramatic, because the audience knows that the stakes are high – and THIS GRABS PEOPLE’S ATTENTION.

So let me give you an example from film and then talk about how you could use this yourself if you’re telling a story from a stage or just to a friend.

How Alfred Hitchcock built suspense

The original master of suspense in modern film is Alfred Hitchcock. In a famous early film, called Sabotage, he had a scene where a boy takes a package on a bus. No one in the scene realized that IN that package is a bomb. 

So Hitchcock could have simply shown the bomb blow up, which would have surprised us just as much as the characters. But instead, he lets the audience know about the bomb. That makes the next five minutes in the scene full of drama. Every mundane moment is drawn out and heightened, pulling every single audience member into the story so that we’re all paying attention when the bomb actually goes off. 

This is why suspense is often much more effective than surprise.

So how can you use suspense when you’re telling your story?

Let’s say you’re telling a story about being in line for a show on a cold night when someone suddenly butts in line in front of you. Words are exchanged, tension rises, and maybe tempers start to get hot. And imagine that after this tense exchange, someone comes up up to you and tells you the person you were arguing with is a former mixed martial arts champion with a reputation for assaulting strangers. 

Whew. That’s quite the story, especially this surprise at the end. But imagine how much better it would be if you let your audience KNOW this crucial piece of information at the BEGINNING of the story – even when you’re still unaware of it. 

Every small event in that scene will be heightened in the audiences mind because THEY’RE aware of a danger that you’re not.

How to introduce suspense

So how do you do it? It’s simple. You could say something like, “It’s a freezing night and suddenly this little guy butts in front of me. Now I’m not in the mood to take any rudeness from anyone, so I’m going to tell this guy off. What I don’t realize is this seemingly harmless little guy is actually a champion MMA fighter with a violent temper and reputation for assault.”

Now when you set up a scene like THAT. Your audience is going to lean in and magnify every detail. And getting your audience’s attention is the key to delivering your message.  

So the next time you tell YOUR story, think about where YOU can add suspense. 

For more storytelling tips you can subscribe to my Youtube channel. You can also download my professional storytelling tool and other resources here

The Great Storytelling Tip We Can Learn from George Lucas

May 15, 2020

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Today I want to look at what speakers and storytellers  can learn from filmmaker George Lucas of Star Wars fame.

Now Lucas is a millionaire hundreds of times over and this is largely due to his success with the Star Wars Franchise.

Now the stories within the Star Wars franchise aren’t all that great. But today I want to talk about the one thing that made the franchise extremely successful and something we can learn when we tell our own stories.

So what made Star Wars a hit.  It started in the middle. 

Now before I go on, let’s look at a basic story arc. 

Jason Reid's Story Arc Structure

The challenge is, sometimes if you have a long or complicated story, the setup can be a little long and boring, so that’s why many storytellers will start in the middle where the action is, and eventually go back in time either all at once or little by little and clue you in as to what set up all this action.

So here’s what Lucas did, He started with Episode IV. Which seems crazy. Who wants to come into a movie not having seen the first third? Well it turns everyone did. As a result, we started with a space battle and not two hours of talk about trade embargos. pod races or microscopic parasites that control the universe. 

By starting in the middle where the real action was he grabbed people’s attention. And luckily he kept it for the second move that’s often regarded as the best one of the series. The Empire Strikes Back. This is the MIDDLE episode of the MIDDLE series. 

When it comes to longer stories middle’s are where the action is, middle’s grab people. If you’re telling a longer story don’t forget to savour that middle, and where you can START WITH IT. 

For more storytelling tips, go to my website and pick up my professional storytellers tool. Also subscribe to my channel.