Freakonomics: How to Create Suspense

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  • Writer Perspective: Harlan Coben (author of The Stranger and many others)
    • Tips on suspense/surprise: Know the ending, this allows you to take detours and still ensure you get back to the road to the end correctly
    • Play with normal perception: Show you something you have seen before to create a certain expectation and then change it up and surprise (slap you in the back of the head)
    • Missing people > murders, because missing can give you hope which raises the stakes
    • Suspense: Keep people engaged and gripped to keep reading/watching
    • Surprise: When you reach a point and you gasp out loud as it takes you somewhere you didn’t expect
      • Can’t overdo it, but try to make it organic
      • Make sure the ending doesn’t just surprise, but also stirs the heart – hardest part of the job
  • Economist Perspective: Suspense and Surprise, by Jeffrey Ely , Alexander Frankel and Emir Kamenica 
      • Economizing the scarce resource on suspense and surprise – as in the ability to change people’s beliefs
      • Belief: Outcome with probability between 0-1 that you view at that moment
      • Suspense: Beliefs before an event. A moment has suspense if belief in the next period is very volatile/uncertain
        • Anticipation your beliefs will change
        • Baseball Example: Full count, 2 outs = high suspense as the next moment will change your beliefs of the game going forward
      • Surprise: Belief after an event, your beliefs have already changed (the greater the change, the greater the surprise)
        • The excitement after something happens (e.g. Home Run)
      • Soccer:
        • Low on surprises
        • Very high on suspense, as missing any moment can be significant (can’t just leave for a few minutes without risk of missing something)
        • How to Maximize Suspense in Soccer
          • In soccer, make the last goal the only one that matters
          • Dubner idea: An end-to-end goal = 2 goals
          • Can also shrink the physical goal over time
          • Can maximize for a new sport, as you can’t lose out on the cultural history/importance of any particular sport
        • Quidditch: If you find the snitch, but are losing you need to pretend you haven’t in order not to end the game while losing and not lead other team to where you know the snitch is (fly in completely random directions)
      • Optimal # of surprises in a mystery novel: 3 on average (but depends on preferences)
        • Too few = boring
        • Too many: overwhelming and primes people to expect even more surprises
      • M. Night Shymalan: By setting a clear expectation for twist at the end, you can be punished by the market – you have lost control of the audience
        • Either fail, or find a new approach and reset expectations (he has not been able to do this)
      • Brian Grazer: Producer of Empire, 24, Arrested Development, Friday Night Lights, A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13, American Gangster, 8-Mile, Rush
        • A Beautiful Mind: About John Nash, died in 2015 in a car accident with his wife
          • Grazer recently published A Curious Mind (in honor of Nash) – Synthesis of 30 years of meetings with interesting people
        • Empire: Try to create truly shocking moments every single week (at risk for becoming predictably/overly increasing expectations)
          • Do tend to have at least 3 twists per show
        • Apollo 13: Highly suspenseful despite the ending was known (like Titanic)
          • Create Suspense: Trick is to connect viewer with the family/friends and the emotions/hopes they have throughout, especially when something goes wrong
          • Zero-G scenes were shot in a plane in freefall to mimic actual weightlessness
        • The News: Most Economists assume no suspense/surprise – not accurate
          • g. teasers before the commercial break to keep you engaged which wouldn’t be relevant if simply trying to be informed
          • So why do you consume the news?
            • What if it quenches our massive appetite for Suspense and Surprise?
            • Tune in next time to learn more!
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Notes By Mr. Podcast Notes

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