[Quick Summary: When a private investigator takes a case from a gorgeous client, he faces three thugs, two dead bodies, and a boatload of lies that surround a missing Maltese falcon.]
I've struggled for years to write suspense.
But how to craft an artful punch-in-the-gut reveal? I read several great ones in this script.
A) Sam Spade gets an early morning call to come to a crime scene. [He's a p.i. This is part of the job, you know?]
B) He looks down a hill at a dead body, but doesn't move closer. [Wow, wonder what happened to the deceased.]
C) Police tells Spade it was a single shot. Spade reconstructs what happened: "Miles goes back, taking the top of the fence..." [Wait a minute - Miles? Oh no! Not Miles, Spade's partner! How can Spade be so controlled?]
You see, the suspense here is built around Spade:
A) His non-reaction in here does not alert the audience. We think it's just part of the job.
B) He does not approach the body. This is also normal. Only later do we see why that's odd.
C) This is the first time we realize the likeable Miles has died. It's a shock for us, but Spade is just pragmatic, which is very consistent with his character. We're just not prepared for HOW pragmatic he is.
WHAT I'VE LEARNED: For a good reveal, don't announce the reveal.
However, an unexpected (but in character) response works well.
The Maltese Falcon (1941)
by John Huston