Using character reactions to heighten tension

Tension is built by how characters react to things.

A monster appears.

We're given information, but how should we react to it?

The hero shrinks down as low as possible behind the sofa, praying it doesn't spot her.

Ah! We're supposed to be scared of the monster. Versus...

The hero jumps forward, knocking a boot into the monster's toothy maw. It flies backward, crashing through the wall before snarling its way back to its feet.

Ah! This is a fight scene, and the hero starts with the upper hand.

Having other characters in a scene lets there be multiple perspectives. You can have your audience character(s) react how you want the audience to react, and contrast those reactions with your main character, who takes a different (more heroic path).

The introduction to MI:5 does this expertly: Benji, Luther, and Brandt are all reacting (more or less helplessly) to the fact that "the package is still on the plane!" They're clearly stressed and unable to do much. The audience is tense: what's going to happen if they can't figure this out? Then Ethan Hunt shows up and he's got a (crazy) plan. The team comes together with Ethan at the helm. Hijinks ensue, and the plan (barely) works. Even the final shot with Ethan, where he gives a "yeah, this is a terrible plan" look to the soldier on the plane, is in and of itself a reaction: finally, we see that the hero knows just how ridiculous this situation is, but he does it all anyway.

There are other factors at play here (the ticking clock of the plane taking off with the package is also key), but having the secondary characters show us how we are supposed to react to the situation before introducing the hero's perspective is an elegant way to take the audience right where the director wants them to go.

Diviner Class Guide

Hello! You there! With the bored look and the glass of wine!

Do you enjoy

  • that smug feeling of superiority you get from knowing more than everyone else?

  • bossing people around?

  • unlocking enormous vortices of unspeakable power?

  • spreadsheets? Or at least, keeping track of everything that’s happening around you to a meticulous, nay, anal retentive degree?

  • controlling the strings of fate?

And do you really dislike

  • moving? Like, to the point you would rather tear a hole in the fabric of space and time than walk across a dungeon?

  • doing damage to things? I mean, you could, but it’s tres gauche, n’est-ce pas?

  • getting punched in the face? Or even letting your friends get punched in the face?

  • you know what, really violence of any sort?

  • except that you can’t really help but notice how vulnerable those monsters are, and if you happened to point out their weak spots to your allies so they could do massive damage, that’s kind of fun, right?

  • you know what it is you don’t like? Physical exertion. You’d really just rather be over here, sipping a nice Chardonnay, and telling your minions - ahem - teammates what to do, am I right?

Great. Let’s talk about your future. In fact, let’s talk about all the futures. Let’s talk about the Diviner.

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