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Writing With Surprise and Suspense

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Hello Writers All,

Happy Holidays to everyone! I am truly grateful for the many students, aspiring screenwriters, novelists and movie buffs that support us in our efforts to provide tips on scriptwriting and novel writing to the widest possible audience. Last week alone we had visitors to the Story Solution website from 22 countries.  Good heavens…Thank you all!

As anyone who has ever put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard knows, writing a movie script or novel is a tough but exhilarating challenge. There’s a heck of a lot of work to be done in order to develop a story that resonates with agents, readers, producers and audiences. My book, The Story Solution: 23 Actions All Great Heroes Must Take, has plenty of ideas and suggestions for writers that can be used to develop plots and create characters that compel emotional involvement from your readers.

As a writer progresses through the 23 Hero Goal Sequences to build effective structure, you must constantly push your characters into situations of strong conflict, and create powerful scenes with effective dialogue to drive your tale forward.

Two key elements that are necessary to help achieve these goals are surprise and suspense:

Surprise happens when a key story event that your hero or heroine does not see coming suddenly springs up.  Of course, that surprise can be either good or bad. Your lead might open the front door to find a long-lost lover standing there, setting the story stage for an entirely new set of emotions and actions to come. Or the shocking arrival of an evil ghost can jolt your audience and force your hero to take radical defensive action.  Or – a sure grabber – just as an audience relaxes thinking all is resolved and the movie is over, suddenly a hand shoots up from the dirt over a grave, like in the thriller Carrie.  Story surprises come in all shapes and sizes, big and small, shouts or whispers, but a writer needs to build lots of them into every storyline to keep the dramatic action mounting.

Suspense is the rising sense of anticipation that something very bad is about to happen (…occasionally something good but mostly bad). A writer creates suspense so their characters and audience will anxiously await the next plot-shaking event that might pop up any second now… and if you’ve done a good job and your suspense rises relentlessly, you’ve got your audience on the edges of their seats – which is exactly where you want them! Think of the suspenseful build-up toward Alfred Hitchcock’s classic shower scene that is layered in even before the slashing actually starts in Psycho.  No wonder Hitchcock earned the sobriquet “Master of Suspense”.

Adding appropriate amounts of surprise and suspense helps you give both your characters and story more depth when writing your screenplay. Then – okay, now comes the pitch, but also it happens to be the flat out truth – by using my Hero Goal Sequencing paradigm to develop your plot, you will know exactly how many surprises and suspenseful discoveries will be needed in your story, and where along the way in the plot they should appear. 

AND from our publisher…

Find the perfect gift 
for any writer at 25% off!

Michael Wiese Productions has released their 2018 PDF Catalog of Screenwriting Books and all books are now 25% off!  Be sure order early to get your book gifts in time for the holidays.

To download and view the MWP 2018 catalog (2.3 MB pdf), click the image below. To receive this catalog in the mail, please send a request to:

May the spirit of the Holidays bring you love, laughter and a warm heart. May you enjoy this time with your family and friends.

I know I’m profoundly grateful for my own.

Thanks again for your continued support and appreciation.

Eric Edson  

p.s. Be sure to visit my website at to download complimentary film structure breakdowns for Back to the Future, Bridesmaids, and Finding Nemo.  (And more breakdowns are on the way!)

About The Story Solution: 
Eric Edson’s The Story Solution provides concrete insights for those interested in writing a screenplay or novel. Regarded as one of the best books on narrative writing, The Story Solution is currently #1 in several categories on China Amazon. Visit the website at to download a complimentary book chapter, view video clips of Eric’s interview with Film Courage, and subscribe to Eric’s podcast. “Like” us on Facebook.

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