The Hitchcock Method: How to Add Suspense to Anything You Write | Morgan Lindsay Nelson | Skillshare

Playback Speed

  • 0.5x
  • 1x (Normal)
  • 1.25x
  • 1.5x
  • 2x

The Hitchcock Method: How to Add Suspense to Anything You Write

teacher avatar Morgan Lindsay Nelson, Writer & Visual Artist

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      The Great Alfred Hitchcock


    • 3.

      The Interview of Gold


    • 4.

      Surprise Vs. Suspense In Literature: Why It Matters


    • 5.

      How to Stop Surprising and Start Suspense-ing


    • 6.

      Your Project & Review


  • --
  • Beginner level
  • Intermediate level
  • Advanced level
  • All levels

Community Generated

The level is determined by a majority opinion of students who have reviewed this class. The teacher's recommendation is shown until at least 5 student responses are collected.





About This Class

You know those movies and books that are so suspenseful they make you sit on the edge of your seat, completely fraught with anticipation? Those are all created with the same principles that we'll cover in The Hitchcock Method: How to Add Suspense to Anything You Write.

In this 20-minute class you'll learn how to be your own master of suspense. You'll also learn the one pitfall to avoid--the common method that's often so easily confused with suspense--and know how to infuse it all with emotion so it'll be relatable and connect with your readers even more.

(And discover how suspense isn't just limited to thrillers or mysteries!)

Join me, Morgan Lindsay Nelson, and get the clarity and confidence to master this essential writing skill.

Also, be sure to check out my other Skillshare classes -- Pitching for Writers: How to Know, Nail, & Sell Your Story and Write a Fantasy Adventure: Discover Mythology and Create Your Epic Tale

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Morgan Lindsay Nelson

Writer & Visual Artist


Morgan Lindsay Nelson is a writer and visual artist who thrives at creating multidiciplinary work.

Her love of teaching began back as a teacher's assistant at the Pacific Northwest College of Art and has grown to help others learn new skills in some of her favorite creative topics: writing, art, graphic design, and comic creation.

Morgan and her work has been featured on such sites as HelloGiggles, StyleCaster, Design for Mankind, and Skillshare.

Learn more here:

See full profile

Level: All Levels

Class Ratings

Expectations Met?
  • 0%
  • Yes
  • 0%
  • Somewhat
  • 0%
  • Not really
  • 0%

Why Join Skillshare?

Take award-winning Skillshare Original Classes

Each class has short lessons, hands-on projects

Your membership supports Skillshare teachers

Learn From Anywhere

Take classes on the go with the Skillshare app. Stream or download to watch on the plane, the subway, or wherever you learn best.


1. Introduction: Welcome to the Hitchcock method. How to add suspense to anything you write. Hi, I'm Morgan Lindsey Nelson. I'm really excited to be here to teach this. I am a writer and a visual artist. Here's what you'll learn. You'll learn an instant, tweaked, add suspense to anything you write. It doesn't have to be a crime thriller caper. Anything like that. It can actually be adding suspense to of romance, which is some of actually the examples I'm going to explore. Later, you'll learn the secret to utilizing emotion to create really essential suspense. You'll learn how to save yourself for making the surprise mistake and something that's very easy to fall into, and I'll show you exactly how to be aware so that you won't do that. And finally, you put all this to use in your class project, which is gonna be really, really fun. So in the next video coming up, we're gonna talk about the great Alfred Hitchcock. I'll see you there 2. The Great Alfred Hitchcock: the great Alfred Hitchcock. In this video, we're going to talk about the great English director and how his directorial insights really apply to you as a writer. This is Alfred Hitchcock. He's directed Psycho, The Birds Vertical. So many of the essential classic films in thriller and suspense. Because he's so good at that, he is known as the master of suspense. The brilliance behind Hitchcock is that his films achieved chills, thrills and tear through subtle means. And by that it's not like if you take Psycho and you put it next to the saw franchise. It's day and night. He has no shock factor as faras like gorse viewing or anything like that. But you find yourself Justus frightened. He approached all that he did with meticulous craft, and that's why he's such a master. Everything behind every move that he made had such reason. He knew exactly what he was doing to build the suspense, to build tension and story so everything had a purpose. And as writers, there's so much we can learn from his directorial insights because when we approach our writing without saying purpose and meticulousness and craft and insight into that which I'm going to share with you today. It opens up so many creative floodgates. One of my favorite ways to tap into treating your writing like your director is to begin treating each piece of a chapter that you write as a scene. Think of it like a scene in a movie, just little chunks that are put together that drive the story forward and think of them in visual means. And by doing this, you aren't thinking like I have to write a whole book. You're not thinking I have to write a whole chapter. Even you're trying to focus on putting this one vision to paper from your mind. And that will really help you also in your class projects that you won't feel overwhelmed all. So in the next video, we're going to talk about the interview of Gold. I'll see there 3. The Interview of Gold: the Interview of Gold. In this video, we're going to talk about a monumental exchange of brilliance. See between two directors, Hitchcock being one of them in 1962 French director Francoise True Foe, who had been a film critic and as a director in his own right. He sat down with Alfred Hitchcock to talk about film, and in the interview, True Phone made this groundbreaking request of Hitchcock. He said, I'd like to have your definition of the difference between surprise and suspense. It was groundbreaking because of the response he received Be his. Hitchcock's answer was so golden. That is why I call this the Interview of Gold. There is a distinct difference between suspense and surprise, and yet many pictures continually confused the two. I'll explain what I mean. We are now having an innocent little chat. Let us suppose that there is a bomb underneath this table between us. Nothing happens. And then all of a sudden, boom, there is an explosion. The public is surprised, but prior to this surprise, it has seen an absolutely ordinary scene of no special consequence. Now let us take a suspense situation. The bomb is underneath the table, and the public knows it, probably because they have seen the anarchists place it there. The public is aware that the bomb is going to explode at one oclock, and there is a clock in the decor. The public can see that it is quarter toe one. In these conditions, the same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating. Because the public is participating in the scene, the audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen. You shouldn't be talking about such trivial matters. There's a bomb beneath you, and it's about to explode. In the first case, we have given the public 15 seconds of surprise at the moment of the explosion. In the second case, we have provided them with 15 minutes of suspense. The conclusion is that whenever possible, the public must be informed, except when the surprises a twist. That is, when the unexpected ending is in itself. The highlight of the story. In the next video, we're going to break this down and talk about the difference between surprise versus suspense and literature and why it matters 4. Surprise Vs. Suspense In Literature: Why It Matters: surprise versus suspense in literature. Why it matters in this video. We're going to talk about what Hitchcock presented to us and how it applies specifically to US writers and how it applies literature. When we come up with an idea as a writer, a movie plays in her head. And when I say a movie, I mean the details of what we're imagining plays out before us. We're watching Our mind's eye is the only audience member and its vivid and it's real to us . However, when we go to put the movie that we are envisioning to paper to translate it into words, we often default to the surprise method. The example that Hitchcock gave. And we don't even know that we're doing it because we feel so deeply connected to the movie that we've just imagined the idea percolating in our minds that we don't see the details. We see it as a big picture. We see the movie as a whole, and in putting it to paper, we highlight the result. Instead of setting the scene by highlighting the result, we make it. We make it like it's the surprise. It happens instead of building and building and making it vivid and detailed and showing informing the audience the readers, just like Hitchcock said, Setting the scene translates it in the best way, and your readers become the audience members. You, the readers, get inside your head and you're not alone and envisioning it so vividly. So now I'm going to give you some examples as to what I'm talking about and how this all pertains to writing and writing fiction. When you do this and default to writing with the surprise method and focusing, I'm writing the result, it can look something like this. Tommy ran fast and hard towards the best stop wheezing with determination. Imagine a Margot smiling face was the carrot dangling before him keeping him going, even though he felt so faint he could have passed out. Tommy couldn't stop. He had to say goodbye to her. His heart pulsed in his ears and perfect rhythm with his feet pounding against the pavement . His heart soared enough as it waas at the mere thought of Margo. This was off the charts. He rounded the corner to see the bus. At the end of the block. It meandered onto the freeway ramp in the passenger window. He glimpse Margo's curly blond locks, bobbing as a suspension jiggled over the breath pavement. The bus merged onto the interstate and was gone for good. Now, as you see in this example, I wanted to focus on a more romantic example of suspense so that use can see how it's not just about a bomb being under a table. It's not that that thing that we necessarily fear, like explosions and drastic things like that happening. It can be matters of the heart, even. And I'll tell you the secret of how to make that effective coming up as the writer, You know that Margot is getting on the bus and she's going to be already on her way to her destination before Tommy gives there from That is very easy to leave out the part that builds the suspense. The surprise is at the very end, it's that she's on the bus, and Tommy missed her and all of that. That space in between is prime reality to build suspense. So I'm going to show you the alternative, and when you set the scene, so not just focusing on the result, but when you set the scene with the principles of suspense. You will get this. Tommy ran fast and hard towards the bus stop, wheezing with determination. Imagine a Margot smiling face was the carrot dangling before him keeping him going, Even though he felt so faint he could have passed out. Tommy couldn't stop. He had to say goodbye to her. At the bus bench, Margo waited with ruler straight limbs and her hands tightly grasping her suitcase. She looked like a proper 19 thirties schoolgirl. The bus pulled up to the curb and the door creaked open. She lived in her chin to not at the passengers as they stepped off Tommy's heart, Polston his ears and perfect rhythm with his feet pounding against the pavement. His heart rate soared enough as it was the near thought of Margo. This was off the charts. He rounded the corner to see the bus. At the end of the block. It meandered onto the freeway ramp in a passenger window. He glimpse Margo's curly blond locks. Bobbing, is the suspension jiggled over the breath pavement. The bus merged onto the interstate and was gone for good, so in this example, it has the just a position of Tommy running and Margot being at the bus stop. The reader is being informed of what is going on, that he is going towards Margo and Margot is about to get on that bus, but we're not quite sure, as readers were holding out hope. The result is the same. But it's not a surprise, because we gave information showing her at the bus stop that gave the inference that it was a 50 50 chance. Either she was on that bus and Tommy missed her or she hadn't gotten on yet, and Tommy could have met her. It becomes more of a Nen vestment. The main difference between the two is that with suspense, you know what the character can lose immediately. And when I say that with this example is that we know that Margo's at that bus stop, we see that Tommy can lose meeting up with her. It is not just an abstract concept, as in the first example of surprise, the possibility of will they or won't they isn't left to the reader's imagination with suspense because the information created meets the reader halfway. It's like what I said before with the bean of 50 50 whether like he could miss her or he could meet her. And when that's presented that way, it becomes more palatable. The suspense and knowing the outcome becomes more valuable to the readers. And the biggest distinction is that with suspense, emotion is involved. Now there is emotion because we are clue in the reader into more possibility. More information for them to feel involved in the story, not just what happens but the process. The emotion is something that I'm going to tell you the exact recipe to coming up in the next video. We're going to cover how to stop surprising and start suspense ing. I'll see you there. 5. How to Stop Surprising and Start Suspense-ing: how to stop surprising and start suspense. Sing in this video. I'm gonna show you exactly how to apply all that we covered to your writing the's air, the principles of suspense that you can apply to anything that you write. Tell your reader what's going on or set it up so they feel like they know what may happen. It could go either way. You could be very concrete like they know that there's a bomb under the table that the anarchist put like Hitchcock's example. Or it could be that there are possibilities that are presented, but at least they have a clue as to what is possibly happening or definitely happening. And in contrast, keep one or more of your characters in the dark about what you have shared with your reader . In my example, we kept Tommy in the dark. He did not know that Margo was exactly where she was at the bus stop, waiting for people to come off the bus so that she could board and have a ticking clock driving the scene forward. Like going back to Hitchcock's example, knowing that the bomb is going to go off at 1 p.m. and having a clocks showing that it's quarter toe one. Those details are what builds suspense. They are how you can apply it to your writing and remember, it doesn't have to be a thriller or anything like that. It can be similar to my example, very much a matter of the heart, and here is the emotional factor that I was talking about, Hitchcock said. Emotion is an essential ingredient of suspense, and it is one of the biggest distinguishing factors. And to do that toe up the emotional factor in your suspense is to play to readers, fears and wishes. Put yourself in your reader's shoes to do this. Ask what about the scene would make them inclined to feel fearful. Like Do they sense their own mortality when the invincible hero is in jeopardy? Play into not just a specific persons fears, but humankind is the whole things that we're inclined to want to protect ourselves from. Try to play to those things, to really up the emotional factor. At what outcome would they hope and wish for another emotion to play? Two is hoping and wishing. Think of a teenage girl waiting for a boy to call that kind of like longing and desire. Are your readers hopeless romantics and want to see the girl nab her prince Charming. There's suspense, and in situations like that, Justus, much as ticking time bombs and think in a universal sense, but also how it can be very specific. Teoh your story. In the next video, we are going to dive into your project assignment and go over what we've covered. I'll see you there. 6. Your Project & Review: your project. Your project assignment is to write a short scene two different ways. One way will utilize surprise in the other way will utilize suspense. Now start with the surprise one. That's the one thing that you need to do is write the surprise version first and then rework it to utilize suspense. That way, you can use that as the skill to take stuff that you've already written or things that you will write and be able to assess it for the suspense quality. And that is a really valuable skill toe. Have, and there will be a resource sheet to walk you through this step by step in the project assignment so you will not feel like you're trying to put pieces together. Anything it will be all laid out for you. And to deliver your project, you can either type it directly into your project or share a link to a Google document and feel free at any bits of inspiration, any videos or visuals that inspired the story and the scene that you create. And just remember what we talked about earlier thinking of breaking down a chapter in tow, a bunch of scenes just kind of like my example with Tommy and Margot on the bus. Think of a small little scene like that that you can explore and be creative. And just don't limit yourself. Just have a blast with it. And after you've done your project or while you're working on it, be sure to browse the project gallery and, like share and give support to your fellow students. And if you're ever stuck, you need any assistance. Please reach out to me in the a m A. Ask me anything thread. I will get back to you as soon as I can and just I don't want anyone to feel like they can't ask. Please do ask. I am here to help, and this is an overview of what we covered. First, we talked about the brilliant Mr Alfred Hitchcock and how directorial insights apply to you as a writer. Then we talked about the cinematic secret to suspense that Hitchcock told director Francoise True foe. We talked about how the way you translate the movie in your head results in either surprise or suspense, and we talked about how to put suspense to use by informing her reader withholding information from your character and utilizing emotion. And finally we dove into all about your project assignment, which all the details can be found in the project assignment section of the class. So what is next? You might be asking. Well, get to work. Scratch work. Fun, fun, fun Treat. This is fun. And it'll really make all the difference. I promise. And start your project in the Project gallery. Thank you so much for being here and letting me share all this with you. I am so passionate in such a nerd for all this. I am thrilled that you have joined me and I cannot wait to see the projects that you create . I will see you around the site.