Dramatic Pause

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

Coma: Together, we're called --
Badpan: He's fallen asleep again!
Coma: I wasn't sleeping -- I was pausing for dramatic effect! Now you've spoiled it!

—"When Bongos Collide!", Simpsons Comics #5

Pretty self explanatory, the Dramatic Pause is a beat or two of silence with no dialogue and little or no music/background sound. Usually done to heighten the anticipation before The Reveal. Also called a "Pregnant Pause", it can also follow the reveal... it's just that shocking! It's fairly common in situations where it takes a moment for the joke to sink in. In sequential art, it is often depicted by a Beat Panel.

A classic of mystery serials and soap operas would be to follow with a three-note sequence heralding The Reveal. As in, "Nobody leaves! There's been ...(Dramatic Pause)... a murder!" (DUN-DUN-DAAAH!) Basically, the dramatic equivalent of an "Applause" sign in a TV studio. Soap Operas often use a version of this called the Melodramatic Pause.

The print equivalent (what you see in Literature and sequential art) is the Dramatic Ellipsis.

A single-note (or chord) version of this is called a dramatic sting.

The Sting is a Discredited Trope, although subtle variations can still be effective.

The Dramatic Pause itself will likely remain a live trope for a long, long time; it's rather hard to overdo silence, after all. Stilted delivery, on the other hand...

Often used in Arson, Murder, and Lifesaving.

Compare Beat, which is shorter, and usually used for comedic effect. Also see Stop and Go for the musical version.

Examples of Dramatic Pause include:

Anime and Manga

  • In AIR, the music gets cut off right before Misuzu's famous "goal"-moment. After that, the immensely melancholic vocal version of that tune kicks in, which makes the sadness of the scene hit really hard.
  • In Neon Genesis Evangelion, when Shinji holds Kaworu in the hand of his Eva. The same frame lasts for about a minute before he finally crushes Kaworu!
  • Kara no Kyoukai has one of the most terrifying uses of the dramatic pause ever at the end of episode 2.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh!!, Kaiba comes back from the dead as a ghost to duel Yugi, a rematch for beating him earlier in the show. He makes his entrance at a dueling station with this line in the 4kids dub:

"It's me, Kaiba. And this time you don't stand (dramatic pause) a ghost of a chance."

  • Avenger is notorious for these. Pauses are long and drawn out; they often switch between two character's faces for their reactions. The problem with this is that it is an Anime, and at least one such exchange occurs between the unemotional protagonist and the antagonist, whom you only see the lower face of. The worst was between the antagonist and a subordinate in another city.

'Antagonist's face: * expressionless mouth&mask*
'Subordinate's face: * mostly bland but partially expectant*
Antagonist's face: * no change*
Subordinate's face: * no change*
Antagonist's face: * no change*
Subordinate's face: * melds to slight shock*
Antagonist's face: * no change*
Communication screen: * Turns off*

  • Abused to hell and back by Crocus in One Piece, complete with Lampshade Hanging.
  • Code Geass: Aw, look at poor, blind, disabled Nunnally * sad violin* ... and then she opens her eyes. Sad violin theme vanishes.
  • In Mononoke the Medicine Peddler constantly...talks like...this. Usually with the angle of the shot switching with every word.
  • Infinite Stratos does this when Laura steals Ichika's First Kiss. The frames then show Cecilia's, Ling's, and Houki's faces.
  • Bleach: The fight between Charlotte and Yumichika is full of music and dialogue until the moment Charlotte appears to win. He clarifies to Yumichika what his final attack is doing, and suddenly.... silence. Even the music stops. Cue Glowing Eyes of Doom and Pre-Ass-Kicking One-Liner as Yumichika proceeds to curb stomp Charlotte.
    • Done to powerful effect with Hitsugaya when he realises he's stabbed Hinamori instead of Aizen. Everything stops: characters, fighting, dialogue, music. Everything. And then the screen itself blacks out. And then Hitsugaya explodes.
  • Klarion...bumbumbum...the Witch Boy, obscure DC Comics character (with almost no concrete characterization), given an unusual Verbal Tic by Peter David.

Fan Works

  • Used all the time in My Immortal. For example, this gem:

And then….
It was…………………………………………………….Dumbledore!


Dracula: Oh, what the hell...Mmm! This is good!

Criminoligist: It was quite clear that this was to be...
Audience: Orgy or picnic?
Criminoligist:...no picnic!


Madam: I have... business interests in Uberwald. Alas, the situation there is becoming rather unstable.
Vimes: Right. I see. And you'd like to have the significant pause type of business interests in Ankh-Morpork, I expect.

    • Quoth the Raven gets fussed at by Death of Rats for giving the "DUN-DUN-DUNNNNNN!" stinger before telling Susan Sto Helit who her grandfather is.
    • "... The Woodpecker."

Live-Action TV

  • An episode of Honey I Shrunk the Kids (yes, it was a TV series briefly) has the punctuated sting performed by a trio of trumpeteers who always happen to be in the scene when it's called for. At one point, Wayne got so fed up he confiscated their trumpets, only for them to replace them with kazoos.
  • A favorite gag of The Daily Show, often with the addition of lowered stage lights and/or a dramatic camera-turn.
  • Played dead straight in game shows like Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?:

Contestant: "A, final answer."
(Dramatic Pause, shot of concerned host, shot of nervous guest, shot of terrified loved one in audience, another shot of nervous guest)
Host: "A... is... correct, you're up to $5000!"

    • Occasionally the host in this situation will actually begin this last statement with something that implies that the contestant got the answer wrong ("You've done a great job..." etc.), before switching back and declaring the answer correct.
      • This was parodied to shreds in Whose Line Is It Anyway?; after every question the "host" would ramble on about how it's such a crying shame that the guest went all the way to New York just to win a million dollars!
    • And if there's a commercial break coming up, they'll often keep the dramatic pause up to end on a Cliff Hanger, then start a new dramatic pause on the return and have even made answering the question an episode-ending Cliff Hanger, though.
    • Also (over)used in Deal or No Deal before opening a case, or just about any other Game Show where they need to stretch a dozen questions or decisions into an hour of programming.
  • Also done to death on "results shows" for talent (or any other reality) programming. You can just tune in in the last five minutes of American Idol to see who's going home, and even then, Ryan's going to say "The person going home this week is..."
    • Parodied in an episode of Roger Mellie, the Man on the Telly in the adult comic Viz. In the first panel Roger is standing with the contestants. He says: "And the winner is..." He then walks off stage, drives away from the studio, spends the night in the pub, goes home to bed, gets up the next morning, eats breakfast, drives back to the studio and walks back on stage to announce the winner's name in the last panel.
  • Jeff Probst also uses the pause on Survivor when an elimination comes down to the last vote in the urn. When it doesn't, he just flips around the deciding vote while saying "Nth person voted out of Survivor..." which pretty much kills the drama of the vote. In earlier seasons, he would simply flip over the vote silently and let it speak for itself, which was much more climactic.
  • Horatio Caine from CSI: Miami is (in)famous for doing this in the middle of his one liners.
    • Not to mention he punctuates the dramatic pause even further by taking the opportunity to don his Sunglasses of Doom. Every. Single. Time.
    • Parodied in some comedy show: "Help me. I'm starting to talk crap...in...short...compact...sentences!"
  • The Amazing Race host Phil Keoghan does it quite a lot, both in his narration and his appearances at the end of each episode telling contestants whether they're eliminated or not. One time, a team actually broke down in giggles in the middle of his pause and told him to just get on with it already.
  • Played with in the Friends season 9 episode "The One with the Mugging" when Joey is auditioning for a part in a play directed by (and starring) Jeff Goldblum's character, and reads the stage direction 'long pause' aloud, thinking it's the name of the character he's addressing.
    • Ironically, he did actually pause, if only because he had to wait for the audience to finish laughing.
    • Joey also used this in a technique called "smell the fart acting": "I'm afraid the situation is much worse than we expected. Your sister is suffering from a.. (dramatic pause) subcranial hematoma."
      • This latter was actually because he forgot part of the line, and decided to cover it up by looking away from the camera with a distraught expression on his face.
  • Barney in How I Met Your Mother does this all the time. His mid-word pauses are Legen...wait for it...dary! He actually managed to hold the beat between two whole seasons one time, and once fell asleep partway.
  • My So-Called Life: The characters often pause mid-sentence, giving the dialogue a lurching and improvisational feel, even if the line is otherwise constructed very elegantly. Lampshaded when Rickie mimicks Mr. Katimski, who is probably the most Egregious offender. But all the major characters did this a lot. In the case of Jordan Catalano, it was used to highlight how he was fumbling to come up with something, anything, to say.
    • That lurching sensation, mentioned before ... was further heightened by having the actors ... pause at just the right point in the sentence that the apparent meaning being expressed ... seemed to change after the pause.

Angela-V.O.: I felt like a really shallow person, because I was. (long Dramatic Pause) Hungry.

wait for it...
wait for it...
Overly Long Gag
in the world.

    • Clarkson once criticised Harry Enfield's impression of him by saying that he left out the ellipsis in the catchphrase.
  • Christmas 2009 had a well publicized battle for the Christmas number one spot in the British music charts between The X-Factor winner's cover of Miley Cyrus' "The Climb" and Rage Against the Machine's "Killing in the Name". Radio 1 milked it for all it was worth, including a ten second long pause before they announced the #2 song (and thus, the #1 song).
  • Parodied one year at MTV's Movie Awards, hosted by Lisa Kudrow, when a category was announced as Best Dramatic Pause. After airing the nominees, Kudrow opened the envelope, and then began a Dramatic Pause that lasted until the next commercial break.
  • Every episode of Justice's short run did this before announcing the verdict.
  • Played with in The Vicar of Dibley, when the characters are rehearsing for a scene from the Nativity in which the angel (played by Geraldine) comes down to the shepards to tell of Jesus's birth. The comedy comes from Owen and Frank mistaking Geraldine's dramatic pauses for forgetting the lines and prompting her, causing her to lose her temper.

Geraldine: (narrating forcefully) And lo, an angel of the Lord appeared before them.
Frank: (prompting) Be not afraid...

Geraldine: (in angel costume) Be not afraid, for I am an angel of the Lord, and I bring tidings of great joy.(Pauses dramatically, whilst her halo appears over her head.)
Frank: (prompting) For tonight in the stable...

  • This happens quite a few times in Reba. One example: Reba's comment regarding her dress for a beauty pageant she attended: "I feel overdressed... for Vegas."
  • Lampshaded by Señor Chang in Community episode Comparative Religion:

Chang: "[Everybody passed] Except... pause for dramatic effect..."

Professional Wrestling

  • Mr. Kennedy often announces his name, then makes a Dramatic Pause (which seems to keep growing longer) before repeating it.
  • Also used, and Lampshaded in the original ECW by the Impact Players (Lance Storm and Justin Credible) - "Thats not just the coolest, that's not just the best, that's from Calgary (dramatic pause) Alberta Canada". Commentator Joey Styles would frequently say 'Dramatic pause' during the 'Dramatic Pause'
  • "Rest....In....PEAAAAACE."


  • In the original Broadway version of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street the chorus ends the opening song "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd" with "...The Demon barber of Fleet ... Street!"
  • A common variation (in e.g. Adrian Plass, and also Truth in Television) is for an actor in a play to use a Dramatic Pause, only for the clueless prompter to think he's forgotten his next line and loudly speak it for him.

Video Games

  • The character Q from Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike talks exclusively in dramatic pauses.
  • Played for laughs in Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey, whenever Anthony reveals the new object of his affections. The Protagonist apparently considers this so shocking even the background music stops for a few seconds (Anthony quickly learns to anticipate this reaction and complains about it.)
  • Non-Terran characters in StarCraft II love...dramatic pauses.
  • The ending of Final Zone 2 has a lot of them.

"That's what you should have done...in the beginning"

  • Kefka in Dissidia Final Fantasy emphasises the "dramatic" in Dramatic Pause. "I'm afraid the mouse is SMACK...dabinthemiddleofenemyterritory."
  • Happens in Portal 2 when you shoot the moon with your portal gun. As a Genius Bonus it lasts about 1.4 seconds, or the time it takes for light to reach the moon.

Web Comics

Western Animation

  • Heavily Lampshaded in Freakazoid!!, in which "BUM-BUM-BUUUUM!" was sung by the characters, Joe the announcer, or even the background singers.
  • An episode of Batman: The Animated Series had The Creeper say "Last time I saw you, you were working for... dramatic pause... The Joker!" That's right, he actually said "dramatic pause".
    • Not to mention he also asked for a drumroll when he was about to say his name.
  • An overused running gag on Drawn Together.
  • "I am the terror that flaps in the night! I am [insert something hilarious]! I am [Dramatic Pause]: Darkwing Duck!"
  • Gentlemen...behold! I have created another...TROPE EXAMPLE! Mwahahahahaha!
  • Justice League villain Manga Khan soliliquizes as part of a medical condition, and demands his subjects make dramatic pauses before any important announcements.
  • Norbert of Angry Beavers in one episode planned to foil Daggit's "Muscular Beaver" superhero persona (make-believe, of course) with his very own villain identity wherein he revealed himself as "Baron von Bad Beaver" followed by a "Dun-dun-duuunn!" to which he added for an even longer pause "Dramatic reverb!"
  • Used for completely non-dramatic reasons in an episode of Dave the Barbarian. At the end of the story, Dave appears, Behind The Scenes style, and, referring to something he'd done during the episode, says, "I bet a lot of you are wondering why I tied a squirrel to a megaphone." Dramatic Pause "Well, bye!"
  • Lampshaded in The Penguins of Madagascar:

Skipper: The clock... is... ticking.
Kowalski: So were the dramatic pauses really necessary, then?
Skipper: Yes.

Rainbow Dash: You're all outstanding competitors! But there can only be one of you who's number one! So the final, tie-breaking contest is going to beeee...
Rainbow Dash *turns around, looks at camera* pause for dramatic effect
Rainbow Dash: A race against me! Through Ghastly Gorge! Dun dun duuuuuun!

Real Life

  • William Shatner is famous... for putting in lots... of dramatic... pauses... even in the... same... sentence. He is frequently... lampooned for this. This... may be related to his... constant need to... be... a Large Ham. (To be fair, while the Shat used more than his share of dramatic pauses, most of the "multiple pauses in every sentence" bit comes from comedian Kevin Pollak's impression of him.)
    • When called on this trait by The Daily Show's Jon Stewart, he explained that he adopted the mannerism because "I kept forgetting my lines." (Specifically, he had trouble remembering the Techno Babble on Star Trek: The Original Series).
      • The urban legend in theatre circles is that he was the understudy in a production of (insert famous play here), but didn't expect to be called in, so didn't bother studying his lines to the degree he should have. He was called in and performed with his now famous pauses. The review the next day praised his performance (specifically the pauses) and he's been doing it intentionally ever since. The tale is in all likelihood completely false, but still worth retelling.
  • Shatner may be famous for it, but he's a positively fluid communicator compared to B-grade actor Thom Christopher, best known as Hawk from Buck Rogers and to MSTies as Troxartes, the villain from Deathstalker and the Warriors from Hell.

Troxartes: This has... nothing to do with... being rich!
Tom Serveo: I put the... beats in my own... script and I'm... sticking with them!