As I write this, I’m one month away from my due date, the estimated arrival of my husband’s and my first child. At many points in life, we are in a state of looking forward. Anticipation of an event—whether it’s a joyous or devastating one—puts everything in a new perspective. It heightens your awareness, incites excitement or anxiety (or both!), and brings up a lot of emotions.

Whether you’re crafting a fictional story or recounting your own experience, how do you write about a time of anticipation in a realistic, compelling way?

Flipping book pages

Photo by Merra Marie

The Countdown Begins

1. Set expectations.

The period before an anticipated event often serves as the “rising action” of a story. Amplify the tension by setting up the character’s expectations. What exactly does he or she think is going to happen? These expectations instantly add an extra dose of suspense, so just as the big moment is set to happen, readers are invested and wondering whether things will go according to plan or veer completely off track.

2. Describe the preparations.

This step plays into the common writing advice, “Show; don’t tell.” Describe the actions your character takes to prepare for the upcoming event. The way he or she prepares—or on the other hand, does not prepare—builds the sense of anticipation and reveals character in an authentic way.

3. Depict emotion.

Anticipation generates a range of emotions, many of them conflicting. Portray your character’s emotions through action (as the tip above mentions), dialogue, or descriptions. Think outside of the character himself too; other characters’ actions, the setting, and word choice also contribute to the mood and help communicate how a character feels.

Bonus point: Show what changes.

Technically, once the event occurs, the time of anticipation is over. But to fully convey all the elements of that anticipation, add contrast by sharing what happens during and after the event. Relate the changes that occur, both internal and external, to provide the pay-off—a period of “falling action” and an ultimate conclusion.

What methods do you use to generate a sense of anticipation?


Write for fifteen minutes about a time of anticipation.

When you’re finished, please share your practice in the comments section. And if you post, please respond to some of the other comments too!

Melissa Tydell is a freelance writer, content consultant, and blogger who enjoys sharing her love of the written word with others. You can connect with Melissa through her website, blog, or Twitter.

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