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 happens. 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 for 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?
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