A huge part of what makes a great movie compelling is that you don’t know what’s going to happen but want to find out.
But then again, why is it that you’ve watched your favorite movie a dozen times although you know what’s going to happen?
These movies keep the tension regardless. You’re glued to your seat and can’t help but want to follow the story a fifth time.
This time, tension works in a very different way, though.
When you’re watching a movie for the first time, tension is to a large degree created by what we don’t know. We anticipate what’s going to happen and tension is created by the uncertainty about whether that’s actually going to happen.
But when we’re watching a movie repeatedly, tension is created differently. This time, we already know what happened.
Crucially, we already know what we felt. And so this time, what we anticipate is the repetition of this sensation. It’s the certainty of what we’re going to feel that creates the tension. (Just observe how often you’ll say something like: “Wait, now comes the best part!”)
Music works this way, too. You can hear a piece for the 100th time and it still creates tension, sometimes even more, when you’re waiting for that climactic moment to finally arrive.
What does your audience anticipate?