In the movie, The Natural, the main character, Roy Hobbs is at a carnival, throwing at the stacked cups and knocking over every single shot with ease. He’s got a crowd around him, and they are all in awe of his arm power and skill in placement. Then he is approached by a professional baseball player and totally whiffs a throw.
Some tension develops and the managers of the two men make a wager on whether he can strike out the professional player in 3 pitches.
There is a lot of tension in the scene. Why?
- Roy Hobbs is a 19 year old professional baseball prospect. He’s inexperienced.
- He’s up against the best batter in the professional leagues.
- We don’t know how he can withstand the pressure. We just saw him whiff when watched by someone with a reputation.
That last part is what create most of the tension. Based on the movie description, we know Roy is good. However, we don’t know his mentality this early in the movie. That’s the tension creator.
This sort of tension is also created in the Shawshank Redemption. In Shawshank, the police are closing in on the warden after being tipped off about the money laundering and misdeeds at the prison. While they are knocking on his door, The warden pulls out a gun and loads 6 bullets aiming it at the door before killing himself.
If he loaded one bullet, we know what he is going to do. By loading six, additional tension is created.
I’m writing this because often when writing or making presentations, it’s easy to forget to create some tension in the audience so that they can’t look away. Sometimes it’s about adding an additional detail that creates some uncertainty.