Hiding the Truth to Lengthen Suspense

Here’s what too many novices do. They come up with a good idea and then they start writing. After about 30 – 60 pages, they’ve run out of ideas.

The problem is simple. Don’t rush into the problem right away. Instead, spend the first half of your screenplay masking the true nature of your story and then spend the second half revealing the hero fighting against the villain after revealing the true nature of the story.

In “Die Hard,” we initially think the story is about terrorists taking over a skyscraper to hold people hostage. Only later do we learn that the terrorists are really stealing corporate bonds from a vault.

In “Star Wars,” we initially think Darth Vader is just trying to capture Princess Leia. Only later do we realize that he wants to capture her to retrieve the stolen Death Star plans.

In “WALL-E,” we initially think a robot is stranded on Earth by himself. Only later do we realize the human race still exists but is marooned in outer space.

Where screenwriters go wrong is that they don’t mask their story in the beginning. By hiding the true nature of the story, then the story creates intrigue and suspense. Gradually as the hero and the audience learn what the story is really about, then the story takes on unique twists until we learn what’s really going on.

So don’t reveal the true nature of your story too soon. Hide it. Then tease its true nature out in little hints and clues. Only after doing this should you finally reveal what your story is about because once you do that, you’ve got to wrap it up in a hurry.

Start by revealing your story too soon and you’ll have half a screenplay. Start by hiding your story and then revealing what it is will give you the complete screenplay that you need.

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