Made in America

Show Don’t Tell: Anticipation

You’re a week away from a vacation you’ve been looking forward to for months. Every day feels like at least two because time has perpetually slowed. You’re so desperate to kill hours that you take up new hobbies, start new shows, and even pick up a book only to see that one hour has passed. You can practically hear the seagulls, smell the salty ocean air, and hear the waves crashing. You can feel the sand between your toes and feel the bright summer sun changing your skin from pale to a warm summer glow. You can taste the delicious seafood and a sundae from your favorite ice cream parlor. Thinking of it makes you smile, but time is not your friend this week. This is just one form of anticipation, which involves the expectation of a certain event. Here are some tips on how to write anticipation by showing rather than telling your readers.

Dorrance Anticipation 1

1) What type of anticipation?

Anticipation can mean a few different things, mainly it could be a positive, negative, or unknown thing. So, for example, say your character is excited about an upcoming road trip planned with their closest friends. This type of anticipation is a form of excitement and any thoughts or actions that this trip consumes for them will generally be in a positive manner.

On the other hand, maybe a character is supposed to go see their father over the weekend with whom they don’t have a good relationship. This form of anticipation is akin to dread and their actions or behaviors while thinking about this event will be negative. Finally, perhaps your character was told to meet with their teacher after school. If the object of anticipation is this vague, your character has no idea what to expect. Could this be a good thing? Could they be in for a scolding? This will likely have them fluctuating back and forth within their minds and actions and can make your character appear and feel scattered.

Dorrance Anticipation 2

2) Mannerisms

One way to show that your character is anticipating an event is through their body language. But again, how their body language reflects their feelings will depend on the type of anticipation they’re feeling. Someone feeling excited about something will likely exhibit behaviors like having a spring in their step, smiling and appearing hyper, maybe packing early or trying to find new ways to pass the time (picking up new hobbies, suggesting playing games, etc). Someone who is dreading an event will likely be exhibiting body ticks like shaking their leg, biting their nails, cracking their knuckles, wringing their hands together, grinding their teeth, etc.

3) Dialogue

You can also display anticipation through character conversations. Regardless of whether the anticipation is negative or positive, the character will likely bring up the event often. If they’re looking forward to it, perhaps they ask questions about what other characters are packing, what they’re most excited about, or mention things they’re planning on doing in the middle of a totally unrelated conversation. If they’re worried or unsure about an event, perhaps they spend a lot of time asking other characters what they think the event is about or about possible punishments they could be facing. In addition, perhaps they space out in the middle of other conversations all the time, appearing distracted and disheveled.

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4) Behavioral Changes

Prior to the introduction of an event worthy of anticipation, you’ll need to make sure you thoroughly establish the type of person your character is. This way, when their behavior changes drastically in anticipation of an event or phenomenon, you can see that they’re either much happier than normal or the deterioration that they face. For example, let’s say a happy and not normally superstitious person begins to believe they’re facing a string of bad luck. The anticipation here becomes what the next bad luck event will be, they don’t know when or where it will happen which makes it more terrifying.

This previously positive person is suddenly feeling hopeless, like no matter what positivity they put out there some unseen force will come and take it away from them. They begin coming to school with puffy and dark eyes. Whereas they were previously very chatty, they suddenly begin to keep to themselves. When they would previously spend lunchtime on a long walk appreciating the beauty around them, now they lay on a bench and listen to metal music. Their previously stylish wardrobe is replaced with stained sweaters and ripped jeans. Having other characters observe the changes in a person’s habits or behaviors is yet another way to show how an event is affecting them in either a positive or negative manner.

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