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Exercise: Remembering anticipation

These exercises were written by IWW members and administrators to provide structured practice opportunities for its members. You are welcome to use them for practice as well. Please mention that you found them at the Internet Writers Workshop (http://www.internetwritingwor kshop.org/).

Prepared by: Rhéal Nadeau
Posted on: March 24, 2002
Reposted on: May 1, 2005

This exercise is part of our "Remembering" series. The basic concept of these exercises is that our own memories form our most authentic source of material. We do learn from research, of course, and from reading the words of others - but how can we truly express fear, for example, if we don't remember being afraid ourselves? Too often, we see writers trying to report emotions second-hand, not trusting their own experiences and their imagination to extrapolate from them, with the result that their writing feels, well, second-hand rather than fresh.

These exercises, therefore, ask us to remember a moment when we felt a particular emotion, or experienced a particular sensation. We must then describe that moment honestly, without trying to "improve" it or embellish it. The key is being honest to the moment, to how we truly felt. At the same time, of course, we need to express that as clearly, as vividly as we can - we need to try to truly share that moment with others. So all the usual writing techniques apply: involving the senses, using strong words, avoiding generalities and clichés.

One of the key emotions in life - and thus in writing - is anticipation. Life - and writing - is a matter of wanting or needing something, then of trying to get it. Usually, this means waiting - a wish or goal granted instantly would not seem as valuable, or important, as one that was deferred.

In addition, anticipation is a double-edged emotion. We may anticipate (hope for) something favourable, of course, but also anticipate (fear) something unfavourable. Anticipation can apply to the child eagerly awaiting Christmas, and opening presents, or the child sitting in the principal's office, fearing punishment for a misdeed. And both times of anticipation may turn out unexpectedly: the first child may not get the desired present, the second may not be punished at all, or receive a lighter punishment than feared. (And the difference between what we, or our characters, expect, and what occurs, is part of what makes things interesting!)

So here's the exercise: in 300 to 400 words, describe a time (a moment, or months or even years) when you anticipated something, favourable or not. Take the time to remember how you felt, how you reacted. Were you nervous, excited, joyful, stressed? How did those emotions manifest themselves, physically and in your actions? What did you do, or not do, that was different than usual?

Optionally, you can show how things turned out - but don't let the outcome distract you (and your readers) from the prior anticipation. Don't rush through to the conclusion, take the time to share the anticipation that preceded it fully. Remember Hitchcock's comment about an exploding bomb creating a shock, but an unexploded bomb is what creates suspense, and thus ongoing interest...

Web site created by Rhéal Nadeau and the administrators of the Internet Writing Workshop.
Modified by Gayle Surrette.