How To Keep The Audience In Anticipation by Chapman University Professor Paul Joseph Gulino

Film Courage: What is a dangling clause?

Paul Joseph Gulino, Associate Professor at Chapman University Dodge College of Film and Media Arts: A dangling clause is one of the tools that keeps the audience anticipating. And it comes from I believe French formalism narratology (the narrative theory) and simply stated we respond (we talk about this in the book) we respond to cause and effect. We look for cause and effect. We are geared toward understanding the world that way. 

It’s easy for us to follow stories, narrative events when there’s a cause and effect that’s evident.

Dangling cause is a cause that you don’t get the effect right away but you anticipate. So boy likes girl, boy kisses girl. Cause and effect. Boy likes girl, boy says I’m going to kiss her before the weekend is over. Dangling cause. We’re going to pick up that effect later but it dangles over in the audience’s consciousness.

So it’s one of the tools in Screenwriting: The Sequence Approach that we talk about that helps keep the audience wondering what’s going to happen next? 

I mentioned deadline, that telegraphing sort of what is coming literally. There’s an appointment at 5 o’clock today, we are going to meet at Jerry’s Juiceateria. Tell the audience that when you cut there you don’t have to explain why we’re there, you’ve been told.

The deadline like THE HURT LOCKER or AMERICAN BEAUTY we know that when he’s close to being dead the movie is going to be over.

There is dramatic irony where we are engaged because we’re going to see what happens when the truth comes out and then there’s dramatic tension when we’re wondering how would the person get what they want or not and will they escape what they want or not.

And I think if there’s anything in my approach, what we are trying to do here that I emphasize with the students is there’s always talk about rules. Should I follow the rules? Should I break the rules? Should I do this or that? To me the problem with rules or understanding rules (or even if you want to call them guidelines) is that if you follow the rules congratulations. You’re one down, you’re following, you’re following! You are not leading. You’re following and having followed them the rules don’t applaud and they don’t pay you anything.

A better question to ask is what’s the effect? What’s the effect of my choice in the story on my audience? Because now I’m one up, I’m in charge of what is happening. I’m in charge of how I’m affecting my audience and the tools that are in these books, that’s the idea. What are the choices that you didn’t know you had? That you have that you can use to affect the audience and audiences do applaud and they pay you…(Watch the video interview on Youtube here).


BUY THE BOOK – THE SCIENCE OF SCREENWRITING: The Neuroscience Behind Storytelling Strategies



Like this video? Please subscribe to our Youtube channel. Or love this video and want more? You can show additional support via our Youtube sponsor tab or through Patreon.

Advertisement – contains affiliate links: