Creating anticipation in (tiny) stories
and what it tells us about the art of fiction
Ever wonder how I create anticipation in my stories? Well, last summer I shared an insight with folks on my Patreon platform.
As you may know, in addition to writing novels, I also write ultra-short tweet-sized tales. You could say that I cover the two extremes.
My tweet-sized stories – none longer than 140 characters – are meant to be entertaining. But if you look at them closely, you can learn something about the art of writing fiction.
They force me to be very intentional about what I say and how I say it.
And another thing: if you read one of my tiny stories, it should entice you to imagine what I’m not telling you.
Unpacking a single tiny story
To illustrate, take a look at this tweet-sized story (posted in Creative Morsels on Sep 22, 2019):
The front door was ajar. Nobody home. Her clothes were gone. So much for our date. From her bedroom window, I saw a police car pull up.
As you read it, you’re dropped into the middle of the narrator’s world. You look for clues to figure out what’s going on. That’s because your brain naturally wants to make sense of the world, even if it is imaginary.
The very first sentence gives you a sense of place. The front door of…? Maybe a house. Maybe an apartment. You don’t know yet. But then you wonder, why’s the door ajar? That seems a little unusual, especially when you learn in the next sentence that nobody’s home.
The third sentence fills in the picture just a little more. Her clothes were gone. Whoever lives here appears to have cleared out. And it’s a she.
The next sentence gives you your first real clue about who’s telling the story and why that person is there. So much for our date.
And then the final sentence is a bit of an attention grabber. From her bedroom window, I saw a police car pull up. The police! Maybe they’ve come in search of the mysterious she.
There’s just enough information in these few short sentences for you to get your bearings – Where are we? What’s the situation? Who’s involved?
At the same time, the situation as it’s described is intriguing enough that you probably find yourself wanting to know more – maybe things like Who is the mysterious she? Who is the narrator? How does the narrator know the vanished woman? Why are the police on the scene? What happens next?
Leaving you hanging – in a good way
Good stories create this kind of anticipation in readers. A desire to know more.
In a tiny story like this, these questions are left unanswered. You’re left to speculate. That’s why tiny stories can be a bit of a tease.
But if I were to expand this story as a writer, let it play out, I could resolve some of these tensions. Not all at once, of course – that would be boring. I may even lead you astray along the way, making you think you’ve figured out the answer to some important facet of the story, only to show you things aren’t quite what they seemed.
But here’s the thing: the final “payoffs” – the ways I deliver on the anticipation I’ve built – need to be worth it. For instance, the mysterious she had better turn out to be a pretty interesting character, otherwise you’ll come away feeling cheated as a reader.
So, to recap: creating anticipation is essential to good storytelling. And if you’re writing anything longer than Twitter fiction, rewarding readers by delivering on that anticipation is equally important.
More insights and tiny tales
Each month I roll out a fresh tiny tale as well as a new Behind-the-Scenes article like this one. Now is a great time subscribe. You’ll receive a free copy of Tweet-Sized Tales Vol. 1, a full-colour illustrated compilation of some of my favourite tiny stories from the past couple of years. Consider it a welcome gift.
If you enjoy articles like this one, you’ll want to take advantage.
If you’re simply a fan of my tweet-sized tales or famous book titles with one letter missing, don’t miss out.
Every month you’ll get little pearls my other readers don’t.