Monday, June 15, 2009

Reward Them with Anticipatory Events

Missy here. I'm giving away a copy of His Forever Love today! More info after the post...

I love learning about writing. In fact, I’m probably a workshop/how-to book/online class junkie. And recently, I’ve been thinking about something one of our blog readers, Vince, said about his Rewards for Reading Index.

Vince talks about how readers like to be rewarded, or “paid”, often. I know Vince has some specific items he’s come up with. He and I talked in an email specifically about having anticipatory events (AE’s) in the story along with quick resolutions so that there is payoff throughout the book, not just at the end. It’s something that can help raise the stakes as well.

So that got me to thinking about building anticipatory events into my story.

First Kiss. The first thing I think of is the first kiss between the hero and heroine. How can we make the reader anticipate that? Maybe a near kiss? Or interrupted kiss? Or maybe a remembered kiss from the past? And then finally, the payoff! That first kiss of the story.

Forced to Work Together. Another AE (anticipatory event) might be when the hero and heroine are forced to work on something together. Will they be able to do it? Will they fail? Will they succeed? Will they fall for each other while doing so? (That would be the payoff.)

Confronted with a Fear. Another AE may be created by gradually showing the hero (or heroine) very afraid of something, and then all of a sudden, he has to face it. In the past, I tried to keep some things secret from the reader, thinking she would like a surprise. But I learned (from reading) that it probably works better to let the reader know, and then hint at what’s to come so the reader dreads it! :) Of course, something bad happening might not sound like a good thing at first. But I think it gives the character a chance to grow and prove what he’s made of. And it may offer a time for the hero and heroine to bond or offer a chance for one to respect the other. (That respect is necessary for falling in love, I think!) The bonding or building of respect is the payoff.

Small Victories. Vince mentioned to me that small victories along the way are good because the reader will have an interest in the outcome. I think small victories along the way can build anticipation, because each time there’s a romantic victory, then the hero and heroine are closer to falling in love. And on the flip side, the stakes have been raised because they now have more to lose. Whenever I think of this, I remember in Her Unlikely Family where I have my heroine striving to help the hero and his niece bond so they can go home together and live happily ever after. But as she gets closer and closer to reaching her goal (small victories that build on each other), she realizes that her success will send the two people she loves away from her. She now has more to lose. I have the same thing in His Forever Love. As my hero works to get his grandmother’s house packed and ready to sell, so he can move her to Boston to live with him, he overcomes obstacle after obstacle (that the heroine puts in his way!). And then as he finally nears the time to move her, he realizes that he’s going to be leaving the heroine behind. He has more to lose.

And speaking of more to lose… The big black moment (BBM) is a major anticipatory event! Actually, in my opinion, it’s the AE! The reader wonders, what will happen now? How on earth can the characters overcome this?? Will the hero and heroine possibly be able to sacrifice/grow/make the right choices to earn their happy ending? This is where you get to the ultimate payoff. The climax of the story that leads to the resolution.

Okay, those were my thoughts on AE’s. So I checked with Vince to see if he had others. Here’s what he said, and I'm sharing it with his permission:

Vince: I don’t know if you have read “A Passion Denied” but in this long book, Julie Lessman has an AE about every 4 or 5 pages. The book is like an object lesson in AEs.

Here’re some things Julie did:

1. Temptation
Is someone with a drinking problem going to fall off the wagon or will they resist the temptation. This can happen more than once.

2. Spats
If husband and wife have a spat, how and when will it end. Almost all the couples in "A Passion Denied" had such spats at some point.

3. Secrets (this is one of the most powerful AEs)
Another favorite is 'will someone keep a secret'. First, someone is told a secret. Then you wonder if they will keep it. Then someone tries to wheedle the secret out of the person and he resists. It looks like he won't reveal the secret and then he does reveal the secret. Now the AE is how will the person hearing the secret react? And if sworn not to tell anyone else, will she tell someone else –especially the concerned party…and if she tells the concerned party, how will that change the dynamics of the plot? Telling and keeping secrets has legs; you can use the technique over and over again -- just like dominoes falling.

Promises Kept
Will someone keep a promise when it is very inconvenient to do so and the promise was made to a child? How will the broken promise be taken by the injured party?

Caught in a ‘Lie”Confront a character who may be caught in a lie. The heroine says, “Wait till I find that man?” That’s an AE. Now what happens if the hero learns something that makes him want to confront the heroine? What happens when they meet? You can up the ante by having the confrontation happen in church where they can’t really say what they want to say, but they still say a little, and then they are not able to have it all out after church for some good reasons. So you have a partial confrontation preparing the way for an even bigger one. In fact, the partial confrontation could have made the situation much worse.

How Will He/She Like X?“How Will He Like X?” The heroine cuts her beautiful long hair in order to have a stylish “bob”. What is the hero going to say? Will he hate it?

How will his mother, sister, cat, etc. like me? The important thing about small AEs is to have the resolution come very quickly – faster than the reader expected so the reader is pleased.

Lost Item
The lost item – will the hero or heroine find it? A lost note, letter, or diary. Perhaps a photo she does not want anyone to see.

Stubborn Moments
In “A Passion Denied” the hero would not call the heroine ‘Lizzie” like she wanted to be called. Would he ever stop calling her “Beth” – what she was called as a little girl?

Of course, the big AE in “A Passion Denied” was: will or when will the hero see the heroine as other than the little sister he never had?

JealousyWill the heroine date another man? Will she kiss him? Is her virtue in danger? What will the hero do when he finds out about the date? Did she try to keep the date a secret?

Perhaps, the hero sees an old girlfriend in a restaurant and fears she’ll come over to the table where he is sitting with the heroine. Why does he fear a visit so much? And will she see him? And if she sees him, will she stop over or will she ignore him?

There really is no end to AEs.

End Vince’s comments.
Now back to Missy:

Vince concluded his email saying that Julie’s book, A Passion Denied, was masterfully plotted. Okay, Julie, spill your methods! For some reason, I’m thinking maybe you’re a seat-of-the-pants writer. So maybe good storytelling just comes naturally. :)

Okay, y’all. Tell me some more AE’s! What have you done or seen done that works well?

Missy’s new June release, His Forever Love, is on the shelves now! Missy will give away a copy today in a drawing from among those who comment, so please leave your contact info or email Missy at missytippens [at] to enter. I'll draw late tonight or tomorrow morning.


  1. I enjoyed todays post. Have to admit some of the AE's I enjoy. like when the hero or heroine face a fear or confront an issue.

  2. This is a great topic!

    I've read a lot of Diane Motts Davidson's mysteries with Goldie the caterer.

    I'm pretty sure the first book is where this happens.

    Her son's teacher is dead and Goldie has to go into the school to talk to another teacher. At some point, she sees an important letter on a desk or in a drawer and secretly tucks it into her purse. She then has a long talk with someone at the school.

    I was dying :) to know what was in the letter. But after leaving the school, she's in a big hurry because of some pressing obligations and doesn't get to read the letter for several pages.

    I don't remember what it said. But the agony of waiting to know has stuck with me years later.

    Hopefully, that's an example of what you mean! LOL

  3. Great post, Missy! And Vince. :-) I enjoyed seeing how Julie used AEs in A Passion Denied.

    I love forcing the hero and heroine to work together. Especially when it's the last thing they want to do. :-) Even to live together, as in my marriage of convenience story, The Substitute Bride.

    I've used confronting fears, too. In Courting Miss Adelaide, Adelaide is afraid of horses. She's pushed to help groom the hero's horse, then must ride a horse to escape Ed. I hope a nice payoff for the reader.

    I brought coffee with my version of the McMuffin--crisp bacon and fried egg on crunchy English muffins.


  4. Good morning everyone! I'm finally up. Hit the snooze button 3 times today. Ack!

    Jenny, I love hearing opinions of readers. So thanks for sharing that you love the facing fears and confrontation!

    Have you finished moving yet?

    Hey, I have a new coffee bean for all of you this morning! Oh my goodness, it's soooo good (but it's a big hit to the wallet, so is a splurge). It's Starbuck's new bean called Arabian Mocha Sanani. It's got the best flavor!!

  5. Wow, this is great! I loved being able to pick some of these out in my own WIP, and better yet, could see new ways to incorporate some into it that aren't there yet.

    Thank you!

  6. Cathy, that really is amazing that you remember it so much later. What an impact!

    I'm more determined than ever to make sure I've got plenty of rewards in my next book!

  7. Janet, that's a great one in CMA! That one worried me as I read. I can't wait for The Substitute Bride!! :)

    Thanks for the egg McMuffins! I love those.

  8. Erica, it's great that you can already find some! I'm working on a proposal, so only have 2 chapters so far. And as I'm thinking about it, I don't know that I have any AE's in there.

    Oh, pooh! I just remembered one I meant to put in the last scene I wrote but forgot! LOL I really need to write this stuff down.

  9. Addendum to my last comment. We really need to have a way to jot down ideas no matter where we are. The idea I had to build in that, "Uh, oh, I see it coming..." factor was something that hit me either in bed one night or while I was in the shower. So until I sat down and thought about these AE's, I it had slipped my mind.

  10. Missy, what a fun blend, you and Vince!

    Great points, too.

    Can there be too many anticipatory elements?

    Or is that a matter of personal preference from story to story? I wonder...

    And Missy, just to prove that Sadie, our pup, is an equal opportunity book destroyer, Sadie got a hold of Falling Home by Karen White.

    Yes, my autographed copy.

    That I've read a gazillion times. Love the big family aspect. The Southernisms. The quaint town. The people.

    Sadie chewed off the cover and the opening pages because I left it on the porch table. Obviously Sadie is getting taller. Brat dog.

    I think Vince would like Falling Home. The heroine is surrounded by anticipatory elements, out of her control, pulling her to stay...

    And she wants nothing more than to go back to her planned existence in NYC.

    When you have a cast of characters (I love family sagas/epics/Irish sagas/Scottish sagas for just this reason) a writer has latitude to play with emotions, reactions, and to build in quick or languid steps.

    Usually a mix of both.

    Love it. Love it. Love it.

    And Missy, stretch your arms around that Forever Computer darlin' and give us a big hug...

    This coffee is wonderful. Mellow but totally "there".



    Oh, oh, I had a trayful of M&M cookies. The kids found them and ate a few, but there are plenty to share.

    And those white chunks? Ghirardelli white chocolate.

    Oh, yum.

  11. This is a great idea-generator, Missy!!! Thanks!

    I'm trying to plot my next book. Somehow, reading your post got me to think of several things I could do to creat these AE's. Thanks to Vince as well!

    I have a scene in my last book that I think has a lot of AE's. A lot of fears to be faced, the bad guy's reaction to worry about, and finally, a near-kiss. I love that scene.

    And I love the way Vince analyzed Julie's book. All I knew was that I loved it! Now I can see (from an analytical person's point of view) why it worked so well!

  12. Oh, no, ruthy!! Did she eat the autograph??

    I'll have to take a book plate to the next GRW meeting and have Karen sign it for you. You can plaster it in the back of the book. Or better yet, to be dog-proof, slap it in the middle. LOL

    As to your comment about too many AE's... Hmmm.... Maybe you could have too many. You don't want a reader to feel yanked around. I think the AE's need to fit in the overall plot really well.

    And I think it's important to build to that BBM. One of the best workshops I've ever attended was by Deb Dixon called Climbing the Slippery Slope. She said your story question in the beginning of the book has to start a climb toward that slippery slope at the BBM. Everything that happens leads up to that moment when the hero has to face his biggest fear, and we think all is lost.

    For example, in His Forever Love, my hero has felt excluded his whole life. He just wants to be loved and accepted. Well, throughout the book as he falls in love all over again with the heroine, he starts to think she feels something, too. And when he finally takes the big risk to tell her, hoping she'll love him enough to leave with him... well, I can't give any spoilers! But you can imagine that he's hit with his biggest fear happening once again.

    So, I had to set up the story question early: Will he finally be loved and will Lindsay finally choose him? Or will she be bound by family loyalty and her fear of risking rejection?

    Then at the BBM, the idea is to throw that at 'em. The worst happens! So I hope it's a book-long AE, building toward that BBM.

  13. I'm glad it helped, Melanie! Vince's idea is really helping me as well.

  14. MISSY!!! Oh, man, talk about hitting the snooze button ... I was up till almost 4:00 AM trying to wrap up Katie's story for a deadline, so I am a little late and more than a little foggy, BUT ... WOW!! You sure made it worth my while to get up this morning, I can tell you that, both, you and Vince. THANK YOU!!

    And "Master Plotter"???? I have to admit, Vince, when I read that in one of your reviews, I actually laughed out loud, remembering VERY clearly how my agent suggested in a not so subtle manner (after Revell had already contracted me) that I hire a writing coach/editor to work with me on plotting because she worried my plots were ... uh, not very good. So THANK YOU for your kind words ... they mean more than I can say.

    And yes, Missy, I am a seat-of-the-pants writer first and foremost which is neatly proven by the fact that I had NO idea about the term "AEs" (anticipatory events) until I read your wonderful post this morning!! I just know I'm a drama queen who likes tension to build, and I get bored unless something happens every few pages or so. I have a very calm friend who actually didn't like A Passion Most Pure when she first read it (in her defense, she is NOT a romance reader or, really, a fiction reader, either) because she wondered why my love scenes always had to be so "tense" and why things were always happening every so often, making her a nervous wreck. "Couldn't you just make the story 'sweet,'" she asked?

    Uh, no. I want something jaw-dropping to happen in every single scene ... whether it's building family relationships with a fun and humorous exchange around a kitchen table that makes the reader laugh ... or whether it's creating a misty moment when a parent and sibling bond, pulling tears from the reader's eyes -- something special must happen in EVERY SINGLE SCENE or ... yes, it's true ... I will fall asleep on the keyboard ... :)

    So the most important thing I would say about AEs is that YES, build them in with something that elicits a response from the reader. If it can't be a surprise or a tense emotional scene as often as you like, then at least give the reader something in every scene that will grab at their heart, their funny bone, their adrenalin or their tear ducts. And like a really great piece of art or accessory in the decor of a classic room, a scene must be not only beautiful (have an AE that either makes you cry, laugh, gasp or rev your pulse to get you to turn the pages), it must be functional as well. Meaning that in addition to having the AE, the scene must also serve the dual purpose of building the story in some way, whether it's setting groundwork or building empathy for the characters, etc. -- make each and every scene a "love affair" with the reader.

    Just my two cents ... or, uh, maybe four cents with as long as this is ... sorry! :)


  15. Hi Missy, Great post. I loved the AE's in His Forever Love. For example right from the start you mention them holding hands around the forever tree and then you keep bringing us tidbits of more information about that event so each time, we get a different meaning about the symbolism of the tree. Very clever.

    Thanks Janet for the muffins. Yumm and yes Missy, that coffee is great also.

  16. This is really really interesting. I don't think I do this, at least not deliberately.

    I need to reread this and study it and try and understand it better. I like the concept a lot and don't think it's really been put into words quite like this before.

    Thanks Missy, and Vince.

  17. What a fabulous conversation here! Thanks, Missy, Vince, and Julie for the input! This is giving me so much to think about. I know that I am not so inclined to turn a page if there is seldom a rewarding experience along the way to encourage me to do so. As a writer, this has given me so much to consider. I truly appreaciate all of the insights!

  18. By the way, Janet Dean, you do a nice job of that in Courting Miss Adelaide and Courting the Doctor's Daughter.

  19. What a great way to start a week of rewrites with all those tips on AEs and ways to add layers to my story.

    Julie, I loved your comment about having something special happen in every single scene. That's what's wrong with the "flat" chapters in my WIP. Off to brainstorm.

    Thanks for the wonderful ideas all around.

  20. Julie, 4 am??!! I thought Mary and Camy were the only ones up that late. :) I'm assuming you're done with Katie's book. Congrats!!

    Thanks for your input on the post! I want to be sure to say that the terminology of "reader rewards" and "anticipatory events" is totally Vince's! I'm just using his theories to help me evaluate parts of my stories.

  21. Sandra, thank you! But actually, it was more thanks to my editor that it's in there. She had me move things forward into the first chapter that I tried to reveal later (too late). So I have my editor to thank for that building! :)

    I've had to do that in all my books on revisions. So for those of you targeting Steeple Hill, I think they like to see more of the backstory (but no dumping it in large clumps!) up front so the reader will know right off what the internal conflict is.

  22. Mary, I think you give the reader payoffs with your humor. And I bet you do it naturally. It seems to me that you just urp up stories (I've heard it called throwing them up on the page) fully formed. And maybe that happens when someone can write as quickly as you do. It's more of an organic thing.

    Then again, I'm not there to see if you struggle at the computer at all hours of the night while you're being insomniac Mary. Maybe it's not as easy for you as I think. :)

  23. I'm glad it helped, Carla!

    And yes, Janet does a great job of this! I'm reading CDD now and love it!

  24. Great post. Great conversation. Everyone working together...

  25. Candee, I also meant to thank Julie for saying that.

    I'm a very linear writer, so I tend to include scenes that I realize later don't need to be there. But it's just the next logical step that happens in my nice little time line, and I write it without thinking.

    And my editor might put an X through it and say to either cut it or make it do something. :)


  26. Missy said of my work:
    It seems to me that you just urp up stories (I've heard it called throwing them up on the page)

    Mary replies: Please Missy, I'm over come. I'll respond as soon as I've dried my sentimental tears.


  27. While Mary's crying and 'urping' up stories,

    And Missy's re-examining her WIP...

    I brought turkey melts for everyone. With New England chips.

    Take a nice, firm potato.

    Slice thin.

    Dip in butter. (REAL butter)

    Bake at 400 degrees until golden.





  28. Mary, here's a Kleenex. And you KNOW I meant "urp" in a good way!!!

    Seriously! You know I love your stories! I guess I'm just jealous of how easily they seem to come to you. It's like one day you're starting a new one, and the next week, you're done.

    You amaze me.


  29. Ruthy! Oh my gosh, that sounds so yummy! Of course, anything with salt and butter can't be anything but heaven.

    I have a bag of potatoes in there. I know what we're having for din din!


  30. Okay, Mare, I've got to add one more thing. I don't think you don't have to work hard on your stories! I know you must work hard for them to be so good. I'm just saying they seem to come to you more fully formed than anyone else I know.

    Okay, there. Now maybe my conscience will clear. I can't bear sentimental tears! :)


  31. Great post, Missy (and Vince). I hadn't really thought of my plots in those exact terms before. Now I have both of my current mss running through my brain, scanning them to see how many AE's there are and if more are needed. Good way to get the creative juices flowing.

  32. Thank you for the Kleenex. And the potato chips.

    I don't exactly know where my stories come from. I do know I like to write them and then go over them a lot, especially series, to bring details from a later book into play in an earlier one. That's a luxury I've had because I've never had a series get published until all three books are done and I've been able to see the whole picture.

    I worry about the day I can't do that.

    I am right now about 15,000 word into the series after the Montana Marriages series, which begins with Montana Rose, releasing in July. So I'm able to do this same thing, finish book three, then go back to book one and make passing mention of some character who will be important in book three. I hope I can always do that and I know I push myself to stay way, way ahead for this very reason.

    I'm sure, if I was in elementary school now, there'd be medication that would straighten it all out and I'd now be an accountant.

  33. I'm glad it got the juices flowing, April! :)

  34. See, Mary. You proved my point. You're three books ahead. You're a freak of nature, I tell you, a freak of nature!


  35. Hi Missy:

    I just got back from the lake and read your post. Wow! You’re a wonderful publicist as well as a romance writer. I think you’re too modest. I made a few comments and borrowed a lot from “A Passion Denied,” while you saw the value in an AE post. You made it a reality.

    I might add that AEs are just one of the dozens of ways a writer can reward readers. Humor is another great reward but it is very difficult to do well. Mary Connealy does a great job with humor as does Janet Evanovich, Lilian Jackson Braun, and MaryJanice Davidson.

    I see ‘rewards’ as ‘tools’ that can be used, (depending on an author’s talents and style), to keep the pages turning and the reading enjoyment on a constantly high level.

    What I really enjoy about your books, Missy, is the feelings I experience when I am reading your stories. I don’t believe, for one minute, that most fans buy books based on the number of stars a reviewer gives them. I believe readers buy books based largely on how an author's books made them feel in the past. (And also on how a given romance theme has made them feel in the past.)

    BTW, it might be said that a reward that comes sooner, rather than later, is twice a reward. I just started reading “A Passion Most Pure” and a first kiss happens on the first few pages. Now, where do you go from there in a Christian romance? ‘Edgy’ is right.


  36. Vince, thank you for stopping by! And thank you for mentioning AE's to me in the first place! Now I'll be much more aware of reader payoffs while I'm writing.

    And yes, that Julie jumped right in with the kiss!! You'll be amazed at where she goes from there. :)

  37. Just when I finished the revisions on my WIP (two days ago), I now have a whole new raft of things to think about.

  38. Hey, Walt, did you complete the manuscript??! :) If so, good job!

    Gotta love those revisions. It seems like it's never ending. There's always something else to check for. :)


  39. I have read a book where two were put together in a job and something had happened between them some years before and the last person each wanted to see let alone work with was the other. this is a very good AE.

  40. Yes Missy im moved. I have been working hard in the garden (reduced rent for gardening) and its over run by creeper, ivy and jasmine and other things.
    I am getting an area ready for tulips. We have anice week this week so want to do it before the rain (which we need).
    slowly getting back into things.

  41. Yes, Missy, I'm done. I'm now reviewing comments on my revisions made by CPs. Once those are done, I will submit it.

  42. I forget what book, but sending someone to a new town to overcome consumption, only for that person to realize too late that she'll probably never see her father again. She has to get well, and make a new life.
    desertrose5173 at gmail dot com

  43. Oh I hope I am not to late to enter, I would love to win Missy's book! I also loved your write up with Vince on "anticipatory events"....I too am an on-line book writing tips/guide/hints junkie and your blog has some of the best advice!
    Thanks so much,
    darbyscloset at yahoo dot com

  44. The winner of the copy of His Forever Love is Carla Gade!