The Craft of Screenwriting: Creating Tension and Suspense

Tension and Suspense are vital parts of story telling. Tension keeps the audience on the edge of their seats or the reader flipping pages. Suspense keeps the audience wondering what will happen next. How does a writer create and maintain tension and suspense? Let’s look at a couple of examples of tension and suspense.

We see a small boy named Tyler playing with a red kick ball in the front yard of his suburban home. Tyler is eight years old and loves to kick the ball toward the street and quickly run and catch the ball before it bounce into the roadway. Mom is sitting on the front porch talking on the phone while sipping a Margarita.

Tyler kicks the ball and it bounces toward the street and he catches it. This happens a few times; the ball getting closer to the road each time. Tension begins to build because we know this is a risky game Tyler is playing. Suspense now becomes part of the story because we have introduced a question for the audience. Will the ball go into the street and what will happen if it does? Tyler’s mom yells at him to stop kicking the damn ball toward the street so nothing really happens. This is mild tension and mild tension is fine , but you must remember to keep building the tension. Have a small release here and there along the way, but always keep building the tension and this strengthens the sense of suspense.

Now we will raise the stakes by introducing a young couple arguing down the street. Hot head Lance and fiery Mindy argue and Tyler’s mom is now totally engrossed in watching the fireworks and giving a play-by-play gossip report on her phone. Tyler is now getting a big run up to the ball and kicks the ball harder that before.

At that same moment, Lance yells one more insult to put the last nail in the relationship coffin, slams the car door and starts the marvel of Detroit muscle car engineering. Lance smirks defiantly at Mindy with one foot on the brake and one on the gas pedal, burning rubber in place; smoke billowing from the over-size rear tires.

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About The Author


John Morgan Risner John has been featured in several magazines and television programs including Great Day Live and ABC News with Diane Sawyer, talking about screenwriting, movie making, the James Bond films and the Oscar nominations. John is also a film historian, specializing in horror films and is an expert on the James Bond films and novels. John Morgan Risner is available for speaking engagements and seminars for writing groups,workshops and retreats, comic and movie conventions, and of course screenwriting and film festivals. Please send an email to for rates and scheduling. In his role as senior story analysis and head writer at Screen Writer Ink, John has over ten years as a Screenwriter, Screenplay Analysis, Story Consultant , Writing Mentor and is a Screenwriting Instructor at two major universities. This experience combined with his Degree in Screenwriting and Film Production, plus experience as a producer, director and actor, makes John uniquely qualified to analyze stories and screenplays to provide guidance to writers and producers looking to create high quality marketable novels and screenplays . The expert staff at Screen Writer Ink not only provides writing and mentor services to writers, but also manuscript analysis and editing and full screenplay analysis and coverage. Screen Writer Ink is available to producers and production companies for rewriting assignments, script doctoring and complete screenplay creation. Specialties: Screenwriting, Producing,Ghost Writing, Directing, Story Creation , Acting, Writing, Film Production, Speaker, Instruction and Analysis. Please send an email to for further information

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