The Zeigarnik Effect is a strange term that basically describes the “Cliffhanger” appeal of leaving an audience dangling, which whets their appetite more. This is what makes the 15 Minute Movie Method so effective.
The next time you listen to a radio talk show, listen to what the disc jockeys say right before they go to a commercial. Most DJs will pose a question like, “Did you ever wonder the five best ways to ask a girl out for a date? Coming up after the next commercial break, we’ll find out with an interview with Dr. Smith.”
Now that you’re hooked into wondering what the answer is, the radio station has you hooked into staying tuned in through their barrage of commercials.
That’s the Zeigarnik Effect. You tease the audience with a promise, and then withhold it from them so they’ll want to learn more. This is why breaking a movie into distinct segments works.
Begin each segment with a bang (Inciting Incident), show conflict (Rising Action), and then leave them with another bang (Climax) but also a cliffhanger (Zeigarnik Effect) that leaves your audience wondering, “What happens next?”
Now your next segment opens with a bang (Inciting Incident) that answers the cliffhanger question of what happens next, the conflict (Rising Action) pulls the audience into getting hooked into another mini-story, and then you end with another bang (Climax) and cliffhanger (Zeigarnik Effect) to pull the audience along, 15 minutes at a time, until they reach the end of the story.
This cliffhanger, Zeigarnik Effect is what keeps viewers hooked on soap operas year after year, and also what you can use to hook readers into finishing your script. After all, if no one has any desire to read your script, nobody will want to buy it.
So use the Zeigarnik Effect to your advantage. Tease the reader, pull the audience along, segment by segment, and hit them with a dynamic ending. It’s not as difficult as you might think, but if your script lacks these elements, it’s sunk in the water before it can ever have a chance.