Thursday, August 12, 2010

Everything I Know I Learned from Alfred Hitchcock

This week (August 13) we celebrate the 111th birthday of director Alfred Hitchcock.

My favorite Hitchcock quote:"There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it." Ah, tension, the essential element of drama. I remember the first time I saw THE BIRDS on TV as a kid. The scene of Tippi Hedren being attacked by the pecking birds was jaw-droppingly horrifying. But it was the scenes of the waiting, watching birds that made my heart speed up and the skin on my arms prickle with dread. That was just plain scary, and for a long time I couldn't see a bird on a telephone line without walking a little faster.

Now you may think that tension like that has no place in nonfiction. Wrong! Biography of course is just the story of someone's life, and no story should be without drama and therefore without tension. The story of any athlete, any politician, any inventor has tension at its core. Will my subject succeed? The better I am at making my reader feel that tension, at making that heart beat faster, the more interesting my biography will be. I owe that not only to my readers but to my subjects.

So yes, go ahead and include the bang. That's a part of your subject's story. But never forget to let your reader feel the anticipation of that bang. Your subject did.

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