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 Universities.com).
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 Edit, and she covers craft and other subjects on her blog, The Editor's Blog.