Alfred Hitchock said “There is nothing more terrifying than an unopened door.” Of course, what Hitchcock says should never be questioned. The Master of Suspense, he knows how to tell a story. But what does he really mean by that statement?
Suspense walks a fine line between horror and mystery. While horror leaves nothing to the imagination, mystery leaves it all to the imagination. Suspense may be a genre of it’s own but it is also a technique. A good writer knows how to balance it within their story.
A plot without expectation is doomed to failure. Our characters have hopes and dreams and usually our story puts them on a rough path towards those hopes and dreams. We torture our characters. Whatever they want is always just out of reach. We don’t want to read about someone who has it all. We want to read about the struggles towards getting it all. Not just because we are sadists- though some of us may be. It is because that tension is what drives plot. It is what keeps readers coming back.
What Hitchcock is really talking about is showing, not telling. The golden rule. When he shows us that closed door, he is leaving the viewer to the horrors of their own imagination- as a great story teller should. But he doesn’t leave it all up to the imagination. Imaginations are flighty, whimsical creatures. Hitchcock knows how to tame these them. He tiptoes through innuendo. He baits them with imagery, allusion. He pounces upon them with subtle hints, foreshadowing what horrors lay ahead. He becomes their master, bending them to his will. Like Pavlov’s dogs, the imagination anticipates a dramatic climax, expectation at it’s highest as he leads you to the door- and suddenly- he leaves you. He let’s loose of the tether that he held so tightly up until that moment. It is no longer necessary. The imagination knows where to go. It goes to those dark recesses of the mind. It remembers what has lead up to that moment and it makes guesses, knocking at the doors of possiblity- The mind hardly knows whether to hope for an answer.