Try adding a ticking clock. While this is a very common trope, it goes beyond that limited scope. Is the killer even human? Something must actually be limited or constrained. Ticking clock scenario Threat of impending disaster—often used in thrillers where salvation and escape are essential elements. They have to do the job before the butler needs to go to the wine cellar for more champagne. Radcon Throughout the third act in both Alien (story by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett, screenplay by Dan O’Bannon) and Aliens (story by James Cameron and David Giler & Walter Hill, screenplay by James Cameron) we hear a computerized voice reading a countdown to imminent destruction – in the first movie the self-destruct sequence of the ship, and in the second movie that nuclear detonation of the facility’s failing power plant. In Harry Potter and the Prizoner of Azkaban, they race against a literal ticking clock in … For example in Speed (written by Graham Yost) the ticking clock is the gas gauge on the bus running down toward empty. Ticking clock. This also comes into play with the psychological experience of the script reader and can help generate a powerful sense of pace. “Ticking Clock” is a screenwriting term that refers to some kind of time limit on a story arc. Kevin J. Anderson BizarroCon In The Silence of the Lambs (screenplay by Ted Tally) we know that the serial killer keeps his victims alive for several days – thus when a new victim is kidnapped, Clarice suddenly has a time limit to solve the case. Will we find out before they run out of living people? (1950) : Frank Bigelow, told he’s been poisoned and has only a few days to live, tries to find out who killed him and why. Some movie examples: D.O.A. Sub-genres (e.g., Romantic Comedy, Action Adventure). Ralan's How about the old black and white movie “House on Haunted Hill” with Vincent Price? David Boop Time is the most used example, but anything can be used as long as it is clear that there are a certain number and no more. The Stormtroopers are trying to open the door — that’s the ticking clock. There are two versions of a ticking clock in that movie. Unreliable narrator The narrator of the story is not sincere, or introduces a bias in his narration and possibly misleads the reader, hiding or minimizing events, characters, or motivations. ), Science Fiction: A captain has to get to a planetary system in a disputed sector to rescue a plague research team because the local sun will go nova. There are genres (e.g., Action, Comedy, Drama). But as the deadline for delivering the article approaches and William repeatedly fails to convince the lead guitarist to give him a crucial interview, the tension ratchets up. When many newer authors first hear about adding in a “ticking clock”, they immediately think of a suspense movie where the hero has to defuse the bomb before the time reaches zero. War Games (1983): A young man finds a back door into a military central computer in which reality is confused with game-playing, possibly starting World War III. Lou J. Berger Each time the number of bottles is getting smaller and smaller. The most obvious (and fairly cliché) example is a bomb with a countdown timer on it. ), Romance: Barb has to get to the church on time to prevent the wedding of the childhood sweetheart she’s still in love with to a manipulative, evil woman. The most obvious (and fairly cliché) example is a bomb with a countdown timer on it. Betsy Dornbusch But then one obstacle after another interferes – a jealous husband, chatty guests, a broken bottle – and next thing we know the last champagne bottles are coming out of that bin and our heroes are still in harms way. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1962), Keys to the Screenwriting Craft: Think Concepts, The Path of Least Resistance to Get Representation in Hollywood, Writing a Logline for a Character Driven Drama. Adding pressure to almost any situation helps the writer make the experience ‘more.’ If makes drama more dramatic… comedy more humorous… thrillers more suspenseful. The popping of champagne corks are like nails in our heroes’ coffins. Phone Booth (2002): Stuart Shepard finds himself trapped in a phone booth, pinned down by an extortionist’s sniper rifle. William can’t just go along enjoying the adventure – he has to get his article done! Can he and Kahzoo, his ever-drunk swordfighting friend, save the princess before she is forced to marry the evil Prince Mal of Serenity? Ghost Town Writers Retreat (Three clocks: a time limit for Sandra to reach her husband, else he dies without knowing he will be a father; the passengers are dying one by one so who is the killer; and the killer must be done before the stage reaches Cheyenne Wells. For example, notice that space between the clock ticking but resist the urge to wish the sound away or to extend the silence between the sounds. Never give the protagonists a reprieve. Unfortunately, someone drops a vial and catches the plague. Western: Sandra has to ride the last stagecoach to Cheyenne Wells to see her mortally wounded cavalry husband and tell him that she’s pregnant. Ticking Clock movies are those where there is a definitive event positioned to happen in the near future which will lead to dramatic, even dire results. If you go here, you will see several that we’ve featured on GITS including Contained Thriller, Road Pictures, and The [Blank] From Hell. Speed (1994): A young cop must prevent a bomb exploding aboard a city bus by keeping its speed above 50 mph. Coffee keeps most of my brain working. Denver Comic Con The deadline doesn’t even have to be at a specific time. The first type of limit is most commonly used in action-based stories such as thrillers. The heroine gets a kiss from her true love; the ship’s doctor gets promoted for finding the cure; the lady riding the stagecoach figures out who the killer is and stabs him through the heart with a hatpin. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1962): An insane general starts a process to nuclear holocaust that a war room of politicians and generals frantically try to stop. The stagecoach is overcrowded and the occupants are dying one at a time. Give the audience something when/if the protagonists do finish the task successfully. Casual groups who prefer a relaxed pace and plenty of room to chitchat may flounder or rebel if you tighten the pressure on them in this way. This technique goes back to the days of silent film – the woman on the ice floe heading for the waterfall or the woman tied to the train tracks as the train approaches. Generally, you create tension by not allowing your protagonist to achieve the goal until the very last second (which is also the crisis of the story). A ticking clock gives the character a deadline to achieve success or failure. The hero has to defuse the bomb before that timer gets to zero! For example, Han, Chewie, and Luke have to rescue Leia from the Death Star’s prison block because she is scheduled for execution. Most writers are familiar with the general idea and they’ve probably seen enough of them in the movie theatres. Hitchcock is using intercutting to show us the window of opportunity slowly closing. Duotrope It can be used for a scene, a sequence or the whole movie. And imagine how much less exciting the scene would be if there was enough champagne in that bin to last the whole party. And that is the purpose of a ticking clock: to inject urgency and tension into the story or an individual scene. The ticking clock method of generating tension in a story can be used anywhere in fiction. Thomas A. Fowler There should be some form of emotional release. Luke and Leia have to escape, or else they’ll be shot — that’s the consequence of failure. When it’s all wound up. There’s a very clever ticking clock in one scene in Notorious (written by Ben Hecht). And then there are what we may call movie story types. They have a whole slew of ticking clocks embedded within the script. They can also create some tricky timing issues: for example, they lose steam if broken up over a number of sessions. Escape from New York (1981): In 1997, when the US President crashes into Manhattan, now a giant maximum security prison, a convicted bank robber is sent in for a rescue. “Ticking Clock” is a screenwriting term that refers to some kind of time limit on a story arc. Archon St. Louis Today another in a continuing series of movie story types: Ticking Clock. There is significant value for a screenwriter to traffic in movie story types not the least of which is they can be hugely beneficial to the brainstorming process, everything from mix-and-match, genre-bending and gender-bending, switching Protagonists, and so on. We can see plenty of similar examples in a wide variety of movies: In High Noon (screenplay by Carl Foreman) the ticking clock is in the title. Under fire, Luke closes the door and blasts the controls, not thinking that they probably control the retracted walkway. As they get closer to that deadline, they get more and more desperate. It is a coming of age story about young William going on tour with a rock band to write an article for Rolling Stone. What if the clock was ticking down on me? In honor of Carrie Fisher’s passing recently, I’ve been re-watching Star Wars. Screenwriter Douglas J. Eboch (Sweet Home Alabama) discusses screenwriting, pitching, and the business of Hollywood. Creating tension by using some form of a limit is one of the easiest methods to ratchet up the tension in any manuscript, from novel to play to movie script. Keep the pressure on — in fact, ramp it up more as they go. At first it seems like there is plenty of time. (Very minor spoilers: Alien, Aliens, High Noon, Almost Famous, Notorious, Little Miss Sunshine, Silence of the Lambs.). A ticking clock needn’t be a literal clock, of course. Obviously 24 is the greatest example, but shows likes Homeland, Breaking Bad, Boss, Prison Break, and even How I Met Your Mother use a time clock in some way to keep the story moving (though granted, a more extended time clock to allow for 5-10 seasons). You may begin to notice other sensations, but do so with this balance in mind, taking in the sensation and non-sensation and meeting both with equanimity. A ticking clock is an example of something that is constrained and must be dealt with, lest the characters have to deal with serious (and often dire) consequences if they fail. The audience must be concerned that the threatened character(s) or things (like a planet) will be irrecoverably damaged, hurt, or lost entirely.