Writing Choices – 10 Cloverfield Lane and Keeping the Audience Guessing

Hey 3.5 readers.  BQB here with another “Writing Choices” column.

We’re writers.  We have to make choices, so make them already.  No big whoop.

Today I want to talk to you about 2016’s 10 Cloverfield Lane starring John Goodman and Mary Elizabeth Winstead.  It’s been out for over a year but if you haven’t seen it yet, beware reading on for SPOILERS ABOUND.

Do you want to keep your audience in suspense?  Cool.  Try posing a question to them at the very beginning of the tale.  Then, take them down different paths, throw out some red herrings and presto, your audience will have no choice but to keep watching (or reading) until the question is finally answered.

At the beginning of this movie, Michelle (Winstead) gets into a car accident.  When she wakes up, she finds herself in a bunker owned by the incredibly disturbing Howard (John Goodman).

Howard informs Michelle that he found her on the road and brought her to his underground bunker.  Oh and also, he did so just in time to avoid an alien invasion.  That’s right.  An alien invasion.

Sorry, Michelle, but you can’t leave the bunker now because if you go to the surface, you will become alien food.  Sigh.  I bet you ladies wish you had a nickel for every time a fella tried the ole, “You gotta stay in this bunker with me to avoid the alien invasion” routine.

Show, don’t tell, right?  Here, the folks behind the film hope you’ll start asking questions.  “Hmm…an alien invasion seems implausible.  The more plausible explanation is that Howard is a pervert who kidnaps young women to bring to his pervert bunker.  Then again, what if he’s right about the aliens?”

As the movie progresses, the audience is fed little bits and pieces of information, along with some red herrings.

  • We find out that Howard, through his government work, was in a position to know about incoming aliens.
  • We find out there’s another person in the bunker.  Surely, a second person wouldn’t be putting up with this unless there really had been an alien invasion.  Then again, the guy is easily duped and stupid, so maybe Howard tricked him.
  • Howard seems incredibly weird and a big conspiracy theorist.  Perhaps he’s a weirdo who made a bunker and just lucked out when aliens came?
  • Howard seems to want to control everyone’s every little move.  Maybe he really did just make up the stuff about aliens.  Maybe he is just a perv who kidnaps people.
  • Howard may have done some evil shit regarding a previous bunker inhabitant – thus a new question – maybe Howard is right about the aliens but he’s still a psychopath that you don’t want to share a bunker with anyway?

That’s how to do it, 3.5 readers.  Start with the question – “Are there aliens outside this bunker or is Howard a lying pervert?”  Then, start throwing nuggets of info at your audience and soon, their brains will fill up with all kinds of theories and questions.  It will soon be worth their while to stick with your work until the conclusion.

SIDENOTE:  I think the Academy really dropped the ball here by not giving this movie some love.  At the very least, John Goodman could have gotten a Best Supporting Oscar nomination.  The screenplay deserved some recognition as well.

YOUR ASSIGNMENT: In the comments, tell me about a movie or a book you liked that kept you guessing.

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5 thoughts on “Writing Choices – 10 Cloverfield Lane and Keeping the Audience Guessing

  1. The Sixth Sense was a movie that kept me guessing until the end. I was trying to figure out where it was going, but totally went down the wrong path.

  2. Jonas David says:

    The 2006 psychological horror flop, “Bug”. I loved this movie because it was not at all what I was expecting. The very misleading trailer suggests a not-subtle-at-all mutant bug attack, but in reality the movie is about something much different–two people who believe they’ve been infected with some kind of parasite in their skin. The movie–and especially the ridiculousness of the trailer going into it–had me questioning whether they were insane or not, and what kind of movie I was actually watching, till toward the end of it. People were walking out of the theater, but I loved it. I don’t know if the misleading trailer was intentional but I think I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much if I knew exactly what the movie was going to be about.

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