HOW TO BUILD TENSION – A MOVIE MASTERCLASS FOR MYSTERY WRITERS
Before I started writing I worked in film editing for many years and the dynamics of storytelling have stayed with me. Film editing is about drawing the audience into the story and I’ve tried to put the lessons I’ve learned in the cutting room to good use on the page.
In BLOOD AND BONE – the third in the Alice Madison series – there are a number of moments where I have thought okay, how am I going to make this so gripping that a reader will want to miss their train stop to keep reading?
Don’t get me wrong: films and books are completely different media but at heart they do share the same objective – to involve the audience or the reader in a story that will engage, charm, amuse, scare, thrill and, most of all, make it impossible to think about anything else.
I write crime fiction and I’m in the business of tension, twists, moral dilemmas and the complete spectrum of human behaviour from brightest hero to darkest villain – the richness of the crime fiction tapestry is one of the reasons I was attracted to the genre in the first place – and occasionally I see a scene in a film that keeps me on the edge of my seat to such a degree that I must understand how and why it works so well. Why is that particular moment in the story the bit the audience will remember and talk about when they leave the cinema?
The Waterloo Station scene in THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM is that kind of scene. Director Paul Greengrass and his team – most of the crew have worked on a number of his films – are responsible for some of the shiniest moments of filmmaking of the last decade (I recommend UNITED 93, the chronicle of the hijacked flight on September 11, 2001 where the passengers rebelled against the terrorists and managed to get the plane to crash – sacrificing themselves to avoid mass casualties on the ground. The fact that the audience knows exactly what will happen and still can’t turn away should tell you something about the skill of these storytellers).
While UNITED 93 is a kind of drama/documentary; THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM is all drama. Jason Bourne must talk to a journalist but the reporter becomes a target for his enemies. In the middle of Waterloo Station in London, at the peak of the rush hour, the deadliest game of chess is played and an innocent life is at stake.
What interests me in the scene is how the director and the editor (Christopher Rouse) have layered the various elements to create a moment of almost epic dimensions: the crowd filling the huge hall is a moving, shifting forest that hides Bourne and the reporter from danger; Bourne is trying to keep the man safe circling around him like a hawk and giving him instructions on a burner cell phone; the action on the ground – taut, gripping – is punctuated by cuts to the CIA room thousands of miles away where the operatives are watching on dozens of screens and trying to direct the agents to their prey. If this was not enough, an assassin is on his way.
The camera moves and pans as if it were a human eye catching the action or suddenly focusing on a sharp detail. The pace is fast and unforgiving; the mood is one of impending doom. We cut from the live action in the station to the monitors in the CIA room in a fluid rhythm that only increases the tension.
After my brief, unequal description, wouldn’t you want to know the fate of the reporter? Will the agents catch him and kidnap him? Will the assassin shoot him through the crowd?
I’m afraid I’m not telling. The joy is in the viewing.
For my part, I keep watching movies, reading books, and trying to make the reader who chances on my stories forget where they are and miss their stop on the train.
Title: Blood and Bone by Valentina Giambanco
Alice Madison Series Book Three
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery
Length: 384 pages
After two years as a Seattle Police Department homicide detective, Alice Madison has finally found a measure of peace she has never known before–a sense of belonging.
When a local burglary escalates into a gruesome murder, Madison takes charge of the investigation, only to discover that this is no ordinary killing. She finds herself tracking a serial assassin who has haunted the city for years–and whose brutality is the stuff of legend among the super-max prisons of the Pacific Northwest.
As she delves deeper into the case, Madison learns that the widow of one of the victims is being stalked–is the killer poised to strike again? As pressures mount, Madison will stop at nothing to save the next innocent victim, but when her own past comes under scrutiny from enemies close to home, Madison’s position on the force–and the fate of the case itself–are suddenly thrown into jeopardy.
Read my review HERE.
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Valentina Giambanco was born in Italy. After her degree in English and Drama at Goldsmiths, she worked for a classical music retailer and as a bookseller in her local bookshop. She started in films as an editor’s apprentice in a 35mm cutting room and since then has worked on many award-winning UK and US pictures, from small independent projects to large studio productions. Valentina lives in London.
QUERCUS publishes under the imprints Quercus, MacLehose Press, Quercus Children’s Books, Jo Fletcher Books, and Heron Books. We publish a range of high-quality commercial, literary, and translated fiction, as well as nonfiction, science fiction, fantasy, horror, young adult, and juvenile titles. Quercus is a Hachette company.