College Application Training |  Greater Los Angeles Area and NY Metro Area

CAT_Blog_Suspense_SurpriseAs you continue to rewrite, here are some advanced techniques you might want to incorporate into your Personal Marketing Statement.


When you reveal an event, sometimes you want to use suspense and sometimes you want to use surprise. The best way to explain the difference comes from Alfred Hitchcock.

If you have four men playing poker at a table and suddenly a bomb goes off, that’s surprise. Now, if those four men are playing poker and we know there is a bomb under the table, it is set to go off at 11am and there is a clock near the table, that’s suspense. With surprise, the audience finds out at the same time as the characters in the story. With suspense, the audience is ahead of the characters in the story and anticipating something to happen. In literature, suspense is also called “foreshadowing.”

One is not inherently better than the other. Skilled writers use both. As you rewrite, you can decide how you want to reveal events. Do you want to use suspense and have the reader anticipate something? Or do you want to use surprise and give the reader a jolt? You choose. You can even write it both ways and have someone else read them to see which one is stronger.


It is perfectly acceptable to use dialogue in your Personal Marketing Statement. However, you want your dialogue to sparkle. The easiest way is to just write down exactly what was said. Every single person has a unique way of speaking. If you just write down the words, you will have great dialogue.

If you do not remember, or you want to improvise, a good way to get ideas for sparkling dialogue is to go to a public place and listen to other people. Without being too obvious, of course. If you go to a coffee shop, or a restaurant, you can overhear conversations and how each person has a unique way of speaking. A good technique is to bring a notebook to write down snippets of good dialogue. The notebook also can be used as a cover; everyone will think you are writing in a journal! Then you can use your dialogue snippets for inspiration.


You can think of your personal writing statement like a party, you want to come late and leave early. Every writer overwrites, especially in the earlier drafts. The easiest way to improve your story is to chop off the first few lines at the beginning and at the end. Then what you are left with is the “meat” of the story. It will be interesting and exciting because you have taken out all the boring and unnecessary explanation.

Do you have questions about your college essay? Tweet to us at @CollegeAppTrain.

College Application Training provides complete college preparation services including college financial planning, college application assistance, test preparation, and college life skills training. Visit or call (310) 876-2033 for more information.