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Suspense

Suspense

[suh-spens]
Suspense is the feeling of uncertainty and anxiety about the outcome of certain actions, most often referring to an audience's perceptions in a dramatic work. Suspense is not exclusive to fiction, though. Suspense may operate in any situation where there is a lead up to a big event or dramatic moment, with tension being a primary emotion felt as part of the situation. It is related to the archetypal image of the Hanged Man tarot card, insofar as it turns on a suspension--an audience expects something bad to happen (because they have (or believe they have) a superior perspective on events in the drama's hierarchy of knowledge), yet they are powerless to intervene to prevent it from happening. In terms of narrative expectations, it may be contrasted with mystery and surprise.

Aristotle

According to famous Greek philosopher Aristotle in his book Poetics, suspense is an important building block of drama. In very broad terms, it consists of having some real danger looming and a ray of hope. The two common outcomes are:

  • the danger hitting, whereby the audience will feel sorrowful
  • the hopes being realised, whereby the audience will first feel joy, then satisfaction.

If there is no hope, the audience will feel despair. Something other than the danger happening is a deus ex machina.

Education

The Zeigarnik effect states that people remember uncompleted or interrupted tasks better than completed ones.

Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik first studied the phenomenon after her professor, Gestalt psychologist Kurt Lewin, noticed that a waiter had better recollections of still unpaid orders.

In Gestalt psychology, the Zeigarnik effect has been used to demonstrate the general presence of Gestalt phenomena: not just appearing as perceptual effects, but also present in cognition.

The Zeigarnik effect suggests that students who take study breaks, during which they do unrelated activities (such as studying unrelated subjects or playing games), will remember material better than students who complete study sessions without a break.

Drama and Thriller

  • J. B. Priestley wrote numerous plays with high levels of suspense, the most popular of all being An Inspector Calls.
  • Robert Ludlum has written many books in the international suspense genre. In the Jason Bourne series, the main character has amnesia. He does not remember who he is, what he does, or how he got there -- these techniques are used to increase suspense and curiosity in the reader.

Movies

According to film director Alfred Hitchcock, the viewer has to know more than the character to create suspense. He has many ways to put suspense in a movie: - Innocent people get into a problem they couldn't help - He uses the MacGuffin, this is a storyline that has nothing to do with the real story but is used to bring the viewer in the story.

References

  • Zeigarnik, B. (1927). Das Behalten erledigter und unerledigter Handlungen. Psychologische Forschung, 9, 1-85.
  • Zeigarnik, B. (1967). On finished and unfinished tasks. In W. D. Ellis (Ed.), A sourcebook of Gestalt psychology, New York: Humanities press.

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