I thought I'd add to the previous post 'Fleeting Details' with this talk about how to use mystery, by someone who specialises in it. And who specializes more in mystery than the Executive Producer of both Lost and Alias as well as the Producer of Cloverfield? No one, that's who.
Except Alfred Hitchcock... and David Copperfield... okay, so there's a couple, but none of them recorded a speech at TED which I have posted here, have they?
This video talks about the bigger mysteries in a story, rather than the smaller details that never have to be resolved. It's a very interesting listen.
We'd love to hear some examples of what you think are badly done mysteries. Withholding information from an audience is a fantastic technique, but where has it gone wrong for you?
May 29, 2009
May 22, 2009
May 22, 2009
This one is brilliant for fantasy stories.
A great way to make your universe feel real, as though it continues to exist outside of your story, is to add moments that imply other stories coexisting within the same universe and leave them unjustified.
One example is in the original Star Wars (full of excellent examples) when Luke, Ben, Threepio and Artoo try to enter the Cantina. The bartender tells Luke that the droids will have to stay outside because "[they] don't serve their kind [there]". This serves no story purpose at all and is never explained but it does wonders to sell that it's a real place with real stuff going on behind the scenes.
Another is in Avatar: The Last Airbender (a television series) at various intervals when our heroes encounter the man with the cabbages. Every time Aang and his gang bump into him throughout their adventures, they obliterate his beloved cabbages. Despite the fact that we never see him outside of these moments, it implies that he's been going around the world to escape our heroes and they keep finding him and destroying his stuff... and it's hilarious.
The best part is that they don't need to tell you anything about the characters or even be explained. Their sole purpose is to add credibility to the world your characters inhabit. However, there is another sort of fleeting detail worth quickly touching upon. Character errors and universe glitches.
A perfect example is in Spirited Away when Chihiro is trying to fill up the spa for the river spirit. She goes to attach a water grade tag to the line when she drops it, so she has to pick another one. One could debate that this only slows things down, but in that moment she becomes so much more real to the viewer than she ever was before.
May 4, 2009
May 4, 2009
This rule is an absolute classic for ramping up the tension.
If you wish to emphasize the sheer magnitude of a particular revelation or simply get across the uneasy feeling that something is very wrong, have a character who is renowned for a specific trait suddenly go completely against it.
Let's say you have an archaeologist character who has spent her entire life looking for that 'once-in-a-lifetime' discovery. Upon finally discovering it, an ominous underground temple, she opts to leave immediately and doesn't photograph a single thing.
Imagine a President character who is always joking and laughing things off. Now imagine an agent whispering a short, seemingly unimportant phrase like "the eleventh candle has been lit" in his ear and then the President leaves the room without proper protocol and demands a meeting with his chief advisors.
Remember, when your viewers assume a norm concerning your characters or even your universe, it really means something when it changes, even if only for a moment.