Building Tension with Subtlety: Order of Reveal Matters

I’ve seen this done in different ways, so this is only one example. A loved one of a main character is missing. Sometimes a photo is displayed in their home and later the missing character shows up in a different place. At other times, the order is flipped. We see (or read about) a character and then discover they are missing after the fact. I personally feel the image first followed by the reveal of where the person is may be more effective, especially if the missing character is not the main character.

When I’m shown the photo in a film, I should be able to sense how the main character feels about that person. Then, when the missing character shows up, I already have an attachment to them on some level.

This is easier to do visually, I suspect, than via text in a book but either medium can use this order of reveal.

It has been done a lot, yet it still seems effective enough to be a good tool.