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Mastering Suspense, Structure, and Plot by Jane Cleland

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Chapter Eight

Add Surprise—Sparingly

A story to me means a plot where there is some surprise. Because that is how life is—full of surprises.

—Isaac Bashevis Singer

The Jack-in-the-Box Effect

In 1962, Alfred Hitchcock and Francois Truffaut discussed their work during a marathon lasting fifty hours over five days. The two great directors and their French/English interpreter barely paused for meals. It was during this conversation that Hitchcock gave his famous surprise versus suspense example—the bomb planted in the café. He used this example to demonstrate that contrary to popular belief, suspense is far more engaging than surprise.

Say you have a scene where two characters are talking in a café, and a bomb suddenly goes off under the table—the ...

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