Reading time: About 1 minute
This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world for material to help other writers. Today I discuss a blog post about anticipation by Donald Maass….
If you’re a novelist, does your writing give your readers enough… anticipation?
You know what I mean by that, right? I’m talking about the delicious feeling of wanting to know what’s going to happen next. How is the earthquake or broken romance, or job loss, or abusive partner or sudden windfall of earnings going to change things? How is your main character going to adapt or behave?
Even when readers can pretty much guess what’s going to happen, they still appreciate the excitement of not knowing. Just as the child in the photo above stares longingly at the aquarium display window, looking for the dolphin or sea lion that’s currently hiding.
A recent blog post by master writer and agent Donald Maass explores the theory of anticipation under the headline, “Jack, in the box.”
“Readers are not passive recipients of story,” he says in this long and insightful post. “They do not sit dumbly, reading without guile, wholly innocent and surprised by everything that happens. Readers are active. They leap ahead of the plot. They guess what will happen. This is clearly the case with readers of mystery fiction, but it’s true of readers of all fiction. It’s natural. It’s one aspect of imagination at work.”
If your novel doesn’t have a compelling enough plot, what will keep readers turning the pages? “When we yearn for characters to kiss or cheer them on to success, we are hoping for a certain outcome,” Maass says. “When a character leaps from a plane without a parachute, or opens the door to the cellar, or heads to the bank with a gun, we have a strong expectation for what’s coming. Our senses tingle. We get ready. We hope to be surprised, terrified or delighted. Maybe all three.”
If anticipation is eluding you, be sure to read this exceptionally helpful post.