Monthly Archives: February 2013


What I really want to say sometimes in a crit sounds so cryptic that I don’t bother trying to get into it, but it’s this: You need to get more into your character, live more inside her, and at the same you need to see her more objectively.

The title Legs put on this thread for me holds the key: inducing.

How do you induce and what is it you want to induce? Here’s most of a thread I posted elsewhere back in January that might bear on what Legs is trying to get at:

I think one needs to look at 1) what the reader wants and 2) what the reader wants but doesn’t know she wants, which is another way of trying to get at the immediate payoff/reward/tingly-something the reader gets from fiction that works.

Generally speaking in genre fiction at the beginning the reader needs to get clued in on the basics: where am I? what’s going on? whose skin am I in?

These things (I think) generally need to be there, and they need to be interesting. But the reader’s tingly area really is enticed not by what’s going on now, and certainly not by the past (the deadliness of exposition at the beginning), but the reader is beguiled by the future, by the possibilities, by curiosity, by what appears to be in the offing. What I’m trying to talk about here is writing in such a way that you give the reader a sense of anticipation underlined in italics because I think it is a key element often overlooked or not understood.

Lisa mentions wanting to insert “cookies” into her wip, and I think her writing mind and her instincts are aiming toward a sense of anticipation.

I hate to talk about this stuff in vague generalities because I’ve read so many things that talk about fiction and craft this way, and there’s only a very few of them that I’ve ever been able to understand. So let me try to explain what I mean by examples.

In “The Time Traveller’s Wife” by Audrey (“Don’t Need No Pen Name to Sell Books”) Niffenegger, the book opens with Clare Abshire writing (but it feels like speaking) in the first person. The first three sentences establish the basics I mentioned above. Then in the fourth sentence she acknowledges “a sort of Christmas-morning sense”. What is a Christmas-morning sense if not a sense of anticipation? In the second paragraph Clare turns and comes face to face with Henry. “I am jubilant,” Clare writes. So she has a Christmas-morning sense and now, quickly, she is jubilant. Does this make you curious, give you another shot of anticipation? Henry looks at her patiently, uncertain but polite. Her reaction: “I can barely refrain from throwing my arms around  him. It is obvious that he has never seen me before in his life.”

He has never seen her before, she is madly in love with him. The whole opening is designed to make the reader intensely curious, to give the reader a powerful kick in the sense of expectation, excitement and suspense, which are all synonyms for anticipation.

Or take “A Wanted Man”, Lee Child’s most recent book. First line: “The eyewitness said he didn’t actually see it happen.” Three men walked into a concrete bunker, two came out. Then blood pooled out from under the concrete bunker’s door. Maybe 150 words in, we switch to Jack Reacher’s pov not knowing any more than the eyewitness, but with a powerful sense of anticipation that there is a whole lot more to this episode, and Jack Reacher is going to become very much involved in what happened in that bunker, how and why.

Here’s the opening of “Drive” by James Sallis, which I think is another terrific example of building in anticipation, making the reader want to know what’s going to happen next:

Much later, as he sat with his back against an inside wall of a Motel 6 just north of Phoenix, watching the pool of blood lap toward him, Driver would wonder whether he had made a terrible mistake. Later still, of course, there’d be no doubt. But for now Driver is, as they say, in the moment. And the moment includes this blood lapping toward him, the pressure of dawn’s late light at windows and door, traffic sounds from the interstate nearby, the sound of someone weeping in the next room.

This paragraph is filled with “forwards,” which is the name David Ball gives to those anticipation cues in his book “Backwards and Forwards, A Technical Manual for Reading Plays,” Southern Illinois University Press, 1983. The paragraph is filled with these forwards: why is he sitting there with his back against a wall? the lapping blood (whose?), the terrible mistake (what was it, why did he make it?), the pressure of the city waking up around him (will he be discovered?), and who is weeping in the next room and why?


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