Friday, February 21, 2014


A story is more than a series of events tied together or slapping a pat ending on the work and calling it a book. There has to be continuity and a reason for events and the reader has to be with you and with your characters to be satisfied. We have to prime and keep them involved enough to continue turning those pages. 
Professional editor, Beth Hill, talks about the importance of building anticipation in our readers so they want to know what happens next. 
Beth's blog, The Editor's blog, is listed as one of the 50 best blogs by and for editors (by Online  

When readers anticipate that something is going to happen to characters they've  come to know, come to like and maybe admire—whether or not they know for sure what that something is—those readers get involved and stay involved in a story. So anticipation is an emotion you want to induce in the reader.
As a writer, you have to be the one to fold in that sense of anticipation.
So how do you set up anticipation for the ending? You build it into every chapter and scene.

Ways To Build Anticipation

~  Set a clock ticking or a calendar’s pages turning—indicate a time or occasion by which the main character must succeed at his tasks in order to save whatever needs saving . . . the world or his child or his marriage. Periodically remind readers of the clicking clock and/or keep the calendar pages turning visibly—keep readers aware of the passage of time. 
~  Hint at possible outcomes and indicate what could happen if certain acts are not completed. 
~  Show negative outcomes for small infractions of the rules (stated or implied) so that character and readers anticipate even worse outcomes for large infractions. 
~  Connect events so that one leads inexorably to the next. Show those connections. Have readers anticipate even more connections because they've seen how events are linked, how events lead to particular outcomes. 
~  Set into motion a chain of events that cannot be stopped or slowed. 
~  Introduce inevitability—one circumstance, if it comes to pass, will inevitably produce the next. 
~  Show characters fighting with everything they have to stop or derail the inevitable. Show the cost characters pay for fighting against a certain happening or event. Show the toll it takes. Make the anticipated outcome have an effect on the story’s current events even as they unfold. 
~  Give characters new resolve as the story marches on—give characters reasons to keep going. Give characters new tools to use in the fight. Show a character’s inner strength coming out as the story heads toward the end. 
~  Don’t let characters go too long without thinking or talking about a future they are trying to head off or the one they are trying to create. Show characters planning for a future after the anticipated big moment. Show them planning celebrations of success as well as future battle campaigns in case they fail. Keep characters aware of the future—through dialogue or actions or thoughts—so that readers are also aware and anticipating. 
~  Show a character’s emotions when his actions bring the unwanted showdown closer. Conversely, show a character’s relief when he does something to delay the feared ending. Keep characters emotionally involved in anticipated outcomes so that readers will likewise be emotionally invested. 
~  Introduce surprises, both positive and negative, to keep characters off balance, to make them have to recalculate possible end scenarios and re-evaluate their commitment. This will keep readers aware of the end the characters anticipate. 
The point is to set up anticipation and maybe even dread in both characters and readers. Keep them pushing toward or pulling away from those outcomes. Make possible consequences drive action and response.
You can always change either the climax or the story events so that the two truly match—you can’t produce a climax or ending that you didn't build toward. Sure, you can tack on the ending that you want, but if you didn't create anticipation for that ending, the reader won’t believe in your story’s conclusion; you've got to have a setup that matches the end.
But endings should come naturally out of the elements that you mixed into the story.
Include anticipation in your writing so that readers have reasons to stay involved and turning pages.


I love the written word, the ability we have to create worlds and emotions with well-chosen phrases. It’s my intention to share tips and insights and encouragement with writers at all levels, to help you craft stories that will entertain and satisfy your readers. That will help satisfy you as writer as well.

I am both writer and editor. My editing focus is on long fiction, primarily novels. I also mentor beginning writers.

Beth has many articles on writing craft on her website A Novel Editand she covers craft and other subjects on her blog, The Editor's Blog.


~Sia McKye~ said...

Beth, my friend, you always have such great thoughts on writing. I've learned so much from you over the last 7 years. :-)

John Philipp said...

Sia, as always, reading Beth's comments is learning.

I'm finishing an 8,000 word story. I shall run it through these filters and up the ante.

Thanks to you both.


Suzanne Furness said...

Some excellent advice that I will take with me as I add words to my WIP today. Thank you :)

Kat Sheridan said...

I always love Beth's advice. You did great explaining those things that need to happen. Too often I do fall into the trap of "things happening" and fail to build in "what might happen". Good advice as I look over the WIP today!

L.G. Smith said...

Excellent points. Keeping the clock ticking loudly in the background is probably one of the most efficient ways to keep the tension up and create a sense of urgency. :)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Some excellent suggestions. I'm working on a story right now where time is of the essence.

Crystal Collier said...

I love it! Now I'm searching for a post it note so I can stick that one word on the corner of my monitor: anticipation.

Optimistic Existentialist said...

I always learn so much every time I visit your blog :)

Olivia Cunning said...

Splendid advice, Beth. I wonder if you ever get tired of reminding me these things each time you edit one of my books. :-)

readwriteandedit said...

Sia, I'm glad this topic is striking a chord with your readers. And, Olivia, editing your stories is a dream.

Anticipation is great for novels, for getting the emotions churning and to get action started and reactions flowing.

Here's to setting clocks ticking for your characters and anxiety churning in your readers.


~Sia McKye~ said...

Hey Beth, glad you could stop by. This is something I needed to go over again, as a John says, as a filter-lens to look at my current story through. I've been looking through several of you bits of advice for that. :-)

~Sia McKye~ said...

John--exactly. Beth has a gift for making a story idea better and for sure offers great info as a filter to run our story through in the editing process. But this is also good info for planning stages of a story b/c you want the readers to anticipate what's coming.

Suzanne--anticipation creates energy in any WIP. :-)

Crystal--i have several such notes tacked about when writing.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Kat--oh, me too! No doubt you've heard the words--lovely words and descriptions but what exactly is *this* doing for the overall story?!

LG--it is. In my stories it's gotta be in the background right along with the crescendos of the music score ratching up the ante.

Alex--time being of essence certainly tightens the anticipation in the reader.

Keith--Thank you. I'm glad to hear it. :-)

Olivia--even in the rough your stories are smooth and fun. :-)

Anonymous said...

Hi Beth. I always enjoy reading your editing advice. I'm well into edits on my current WIP and these are good reminders about ways to keep the pages turning.

Yolanda Renee said...

Beautifully presented! Thanks Beth!

Doing a rewrite now - this is perfect!

Anonymous said...

These are great ideas! I'm definitely going to find ways to build these into my mystery novel. Thanks for a great list!

Inger said...

This post provides so many good ideas for writers. Thanks for stopping by my blog a while back.

Old Kitty said...

Great tips - thank you! I really like the one about showing inevitabilities (phew - long word! LOL!)! Totally makes sense that one would lead to another! Excellent! Take care

Nicole Zoltack said...

Great advice!