How to Use Anticipation to Write Better Stories

Waiting is hard, but you can use uncertainty and anxiety to your story’s advantage.

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writing

As a writer, you likely do a lot of waiting. You wait to get to a particular part in your story – you know, the part you’ve been anticipating since the beginning. You wait for someone to give you feedback. You wait for someone to respond to your email. You wait. And wait. And WAIT.

While you endure all this waiting, though, you have to do SOMETHING. Even if you don’t feel like you’re ready to write again, you can actually use these feelings of impatience and anxiety to your advantage by handing them over to characters and situations in a brand-new story.

Anticipation is a core element of storytelling. You need to be able to give your reader a reason to keep turning pages. I’m watching FRIENDS for the first time … think of how different you would have felt if the writers hadn’t dragged you through over half of season two just waiting for Ross and Rachel to gosh darn get together for real already. Was it worth the wait? Of course. But waiting is what made me watch 15 straight episodes without stopping yesterday (oops?). I needed that satisfaction.

Part of what makes writing such a draining task is that you, whether intentionally or not, become emotionally invested in the stories you write. Your emotions become your characters’ emotions, and vise versa. If you are feeling anxious, waiting for something to happen, you can instill that same anxiety in your readers as you gently pull them forward – almost giving them what they want, but lifting it just out of reach at the last minute.

That’s what makes a reader love and hate you. And it’s the best kind of love-hate relationship.

The fact that you’re already feeling such intense emotions as a result of things happening in your own life actually makes this an easier methodology to apply to your writing. The best scenes in books are the ones that depict specific emotions – written in real time as the author is feeling those exact emotions. That makes it real; believable; relatable.

Next time you feel bummed about a seemingly endless path of silence and waiting ahead of you, remember that emotions like these are potentially your most beneficial tool as a writer. When you feel, so will your reader. It’s like venting on paper, but with purpose and long-lasting effect. I’ve done it to you just now, and hopefully I’ve managed to help you in some way, as I drown in the silent worry that I will be waiting for something forever plus an eternity and a half.

We’re better writers because we’re emotional. That’s what we tell ourselves, anyway. Have you ever cried because your character started crying? Of course you have. Or was it the other way around? …

Don’t just wait. Write about waiting. Make it count.


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

5 thoughts on “How to Use Anticipation to Write Better Stories

    1. If it affects you, you can almost be certain a reader will have a similar reaction – and that’s a good thing! Once you get past the fact that you’re bonding with imaginary people that don’t actually exist outside your head, it’s not so bad. ;)

    1. I do both! Journaling mainly helps me stay focused and productive but there’s some venting in there too – transferring that over to fiction can be hard, but I’ve found it really helps bring characters to life.

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