Drawing the Thrills
Fear, Thrills, Excitement…
As with any ride that is artfully crafted, participants are intrigued by the anxiety of not knowing what will happen next. The steady pressure of this anxiety, this fear creates a tension and through it a suspense that drives the narrative forward.
"Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win." - Stephen King
The suspense may drive the piece forward but without a release the characters and audience will be too fatigued by the end of the piece to enjoy the ride. Many seek out thrills to experience that rush, the race of their heartbeat, the fear of the unknown and the feeling of relief that comes once they've overcome that obstacle. It is a psychological need to understand, a fascination with that which they can not comprehend because it is so different from our everyday lives. That fascination stems from a need to find out how much fear the individual can tolerate and ultimately the sense of satisfaction that comes from being able to endure that anxiety.
In a roller-coaster it is the anxiety of not knowing what comes next that makes the ride so appealing but it is the excitement that makes the ride satisfying. The longer the anxiety is permitted to build, the more tension the participants will feel and by extension the greater the satisfaction will be for the release of that tension.
While the tension of a ride may continue to build the conditional stress experienced is still subject to the individual's tolerances for prolonged anxiety. This means that while a ride may layer anxiety and tension to keep applying pressure the individual has physiological tolerances to that stressor. The individual can become exhausted and in terms of a narrative this means they will put the story down. Exciting moments are release points for the tension. If the excitement does not address the current anxiety or tension in any way then it will not serve as a release but another form of tension.
Thrilling moments are derived from an equal balance of anxiety and the satisfaction of that release. Like a roller-coaster, if the ride climbs to an epic height the drop, excitement, should be of equal height unless there is a need to keep partial stress. This can mean a greater satisfaction from the climax of the ride however, it also means greater chances of fatigue along the journey.
Thrills are created by provoking emotional anxiety both for the character and the reader through exploring that which they can not understand. What is it like to have someone close murdered? What is it like the have two people fall in love with the same person? What is it like to catch a criminal? Stop a supernatural horror? People look to experience a thrill, something that they do not experience on a routine basis. To deliver that thrill, it needs to come in equal parts of tension and excitement. If you reduce the tension, the excitement will not have the same impact. If you reduce the excitement, the satisfaction will fade with it. The perfect thrill is one that is built with suspense and has partial releases (pay-offs) until the close.
Romance example: Antoine has a crush on Jayne but she doesn't know he exists. Antoine set about trying to get her attention. (Tension) After a period he finds a means of talking with her. (Partial-Release) Jayne smiles at him passing in the hall. (Partial-Release) Mean Ex-BF threatens Antoine, they walk away together. (Tension) Antoine confronts EB. (Tension) Jayne admits she's in love with Antoine. (Release)
Supernatural Thriller example: Antoine discovers people are disappearing. Secretly has crush on Jayne. (Tension) Discusses with friends and friends confirm more disappearances. (Tension) Starts working with Jayne to find missing people. (Partial-Release) In-fighting about how to proceed as friends disappear. (Tension) Find clues about disappearances, in-fighting between them due to tension. (Partial-Release, relationship tension) Antoine admits crush to Jayne, interrupted before Jayne can react. (Tension) Antoine saves Jayne form supernatural threat. (Partial-Release- still relationship tension) Together they stop the threat and Jayne admits to being in love with Antoine. (Release)
Ultimately, if you build too much tension without at least a partial release it is akin to queuing in line for hours to get on a roller-coaster that goes down one dip and dumps you off at the gift shop.