Suspense


Suspense

Suspense is a 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. In the kind of suspense described by film director Alfred Hitchcock, an audience experiences suspense when they expect something bad to happen and 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 broader definitions of suspense, this emotion arises when someone is aware of his lack of knowledge about the development of a meaningful event; thus, suspense is a combination of anticipation and uncertainty dealing with the obscurity of the future. In terms of narrative expectations, it may be contrasted with mystery or curiosity and surprise. Suspense could however be some small event in a person's life, such as a child anticipating an answer to a request they've made, e.g., "May I get the kitty?". Therefore, suspense comes in many different sizes, big and small.

Contents

Aristotle

According to Greek philosopher Aristotle in his book Poetics, suspense is an important building block of literature[citation needed]. 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.

  • the build up of tension. Most of the time in a narrative, play, movie, etc.

Paradox of suspense

Some authors have tried to explain the "paradox of suspense", namely: a narrative tension that remains effective even when uncertainty is neutralized, because repeat audiences know exactly how the story resolves (see Gerrig 1989, Walton 1990, Yanal 1996, Brewer 1996, Baroni 2007). Some theories assume that true repeat audiences are extremely rare because, in reiteration, we usually forget many details of the story and the interest arises due to these holes of memory (see Brewer); others claim that uncertainty remains even for often told stories because, during the immersion in the fictional world, we forget fictionally what we know factually (Walton) or because we expect fictional worlds to look like real world, where exact repetition of an event is impossible (Gerrig). The position of Yanal is more radical and postulates that narrative tension that remains effective in true repetition should be clearly distinguished from genuine suspense, because uncertainty is part of the definition of suspense. Baroni (2007: 279-295) proposes to name rappel this kind of suspense whose excitement relies on the ability of the audience to anticipate perfectly what is to come, a precognition that is particularly enjoyable for children dealing with well-known fairy tales. Baroni adds that another kind of suspense without uncertainty can emerge with the occasional contradiction between what the reader knows about the future (cognition) and what he desires (volition), especially in tragedy, when the protagonist eventually dies or fails (suspense par contradiction).

Zeigarnik effect

Soviet psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik (1900-1988) first studied the phenomenon after her professor, Gestalt psychologist Kurt Lewin, noticed that a waiter had better recollections of still unpaid orders. However, several thorough replication studies done later in other countries failed to replicate Zeigarniks results. In those studies no significant recall effects were found for completed and interrupted tasks (e.g. Van Bergen, A., 1968. For a review see Kiebel, Elizabeth M., 2009 ). In psychology, the Zeigarnik effect states that people remember uncompleted or interrupted tasks better than completed tasks. 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 suspend their study, 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 (Zeigarnik, 1927; McKinney 1935).

References

  • Baroni, R. (2007). La tension narrative. Suspense, curiosité, surprise, Paris: Seuil.
  • Baroni, R. (2009). L'oeuvre du temps. Poétique de la discordance narrative, Paris: Seuil.
  • Brewer, W. (1996). "The Nature of Narrative Suspense and the Problem of Rereading", in Suspense. Conceptualizations, Theoretical Analyses, and Empirical Explorations, Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  • Brooks, P. (1984). Reading for the Plot: Design and Intention in Narrative, Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  • Gerrig, R. (1989). "Suspense in the Absence of Uncertainty", Journal of Memory and Language, n° 28, p. 633-648.
  • Grivel, C. (1973). Production de l'intérêt romanesque, Paris & The Hague: Mouton.
  • Kiefel, E.M. (2009). The Effects of Directed Forgetting on Completed and Incompleted Tasks. Presented at the 2nd Annual Student-Faculty Research Celebration at Winona State University, Winona MN. See online [1].
  • McKinney, F. (1935). "Studies in the retention of interrupted learning activities", Journal of Comparative Psychology, vol n° 19(2), p. 265-296.
  • Phelan, J. (1989). Reading People, Reading Plots: Character, Progression, and the Interpretation of Narrative, Chicago, University of Chicago Press.
  • Prieto-Pablos, J. (1998). "The Paradox of Suspense", Poetics, n° 26, p. 99-113.
  • Ryan, M.-L. (1991), Possible Worlds, Artificial Intelligence, and Narrative Theory, Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
  • Schaper, E. (1968), "Aristotle's Catharsis and Aesthetic Pleasure", The Philosophical Quarterly, vol. 18, n° 71, p. 131-143.
  • Sternberg, M. (1978), Expositional Modes and Temporal Ordering in Fiction, Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • Sternberg, M. (1992), "Telling in Time (II): Chronology, Teleology, Narrativity", Poetics Today, n° 11, p. 901-948.
  • Sternberg, M. (2001), "How Narrativity Makes a Difference", Narrative, n° 9, (2), p. 115-122.
  • Van Bergen, A. (1968) Task interruption. Amsterdam: North-Holland Publishing Company.
  • Vorderer, P., H. Wulff & M. Friedrichsen (eds) (1996). Suspense. Conceptualizations, Theoretical Analyses, and Empirical Explorations, Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  • Walton, K. (1990), Mimesis as Make-Believe, Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  • Yanal, R. (1996). "The Paradox of Suspense", British Journal of Aesthetics, n° 36, (2), p. 146-158.
  • 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.

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Synonyms:

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Suspense — (engl. für „Gespanntheit“) ist ein Begriff aus der Theater , Film und Literaturwissenschaft. Er leitet sich von lat. suspendere („aufhängen“) ab und bedeutet so viel wie „in Unsicherheit schweben“ hinsichtlich eines befürchteten oder erhofften… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Suspense — Sus*pense , n. [From F. suspens, a. See {Suspense}, a.] 1. The state of being suspended; specifically, a state of uncertainty and expectation, with anxiety or apprehension; indetermination; indecision; as, the suspense of a person waiting for the …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Suspense — Sus*pense , a. [F. suspens, L. suspensus, p. p. of suspendere. See {Suspend}.] 1. Held or lifted up; held or prevented from proceeding. [Obs.] [1913 Webster] [The great light of day] suspense in heaven. Milton. [1913 Webster] 2. Expressing, or… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • suspense — 1. ‘Expectación por el desarrollo de una acción o suceso, especialmente en una película, obra teatral o relato’: «Toda la historia está llevada con una maestría inaudita, [...] manejando inteligentemente el suspense, la intriga, la zozobra del… …   Diccionario panhispánico de dudas

  • suspense — sustantivo masculino 1. (no contable) Misterio, emoción, incertidumbre: Siempre cuenta las cosas con mucho suspense. El relato tiene mucho suspense y es emocionante. 2. (no contable) Género cinematográfico o literario cuya característica… …   Diccionario Salamanca de la Lengua Española

  • suspense — suspense, suspension The two words used to be interchangeable in several meanings, but have since gone their separate ways. Suspense is used primarily to denote ‘a state of anxious uncertainty or expectation’, and is common attributively (i.e.… …   Modern English usage

  • suspense — (Del fr. suspense, y este del ingl. suspense). m. Expectación impaciente o ansiosa por el desarrollo de una acción o suceso, especialmente en una película cinematográfica, una obra teatral o un relato …   Diccionario de la lengua española

  • suspense — [sə spens′] n. [ME < MFr suspens, suspense, delay, deferring < ML suspensum < L suspensus, suspended, uncertain, lit., hung up, pp. of suspendere, to SUSPEND] 1. the state of being undecided or undetermined 2. a state of usually anxious… …   English World dictionary

  • suspense — index doubt (indecision), expectation, pendency, remission Burton s Legal Thesaurus. William C. Burton. 2006 …   Law dictionary

  • suspense — c.1400, not being executed, unfulfilled (of legal matters), from Anglo Fr. suspens (in en suspens in abeyance, c.1300), from O.Fr. suspens act of suspending, from L. suspensus, pp. of suspendere (see SUSPEND (Cf. suspend)). Meaning state of… …   Etymology dictionary

  • suspense — s. m. Momento de um filme, de uma obra literária, em que a ação, parando um instante, mantém o espectador, o auditor ou o leitor em angustiosa expectativa sobre o que vai acontecer.   ‣ Etimologia: palavra inglesa …   Dicionário da Língua Portuguesa


Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.