As agents of suspense, mystery and conflict have something in common: they prompt anticipation. But anticipation is not inherently good. Problems arise when what’s anticipated works against other aspects of an intended experience.
Imagine it’s your birthday. You’re so excited and focused on your presents that you are oblivious to the people in attendance, the food, the cake, the ice cream, the decorations and the effort others have made on your behalf. When you open your presents your are rewarded for your anticipation, but at what cost?
Now imagine you were raised to be less of a self-centered jerk. At your birthday party you greet and spend time with each guest. You taste and savor the food, you appreciate the effort made by all, and you recognize the compliment of the party itself. By the time you open your gifts you are overflowing with feelings of love, friendship and family.
In each example the event is the same. But because of preparation (in the way your parents raised you) the experience is completely different. In the first example you have a shallow, vain, dismissive, two-dimensional experience that can only be measured by the value (economic and otherwise) of the items you accumulate. In the second example you have a deep, rich, full, inclusive experience that also infuses each gift with meaning beyond its value or utility.
The lesson, again, is that successful storytelling is always about preparation. Preparation that narrowly focuses reader anticipation should generally be avoided, while preparation that broadens and harmonizes reader anticipation should be pursued. [ Read more ]