Last week we discussed some timing and pacing, which is a pretty expansive and might go into another post as well. However, today we are going to switch gears and go into a topic that kind of supports timing and that is anticipation.
Anticipation is an animation principle that crosses over into the world of story writing as well. If you have taken any writing courses, you may also have heard the term foreshadowing as well. This means that we you lead up to certain events, or you can lead the audience on (tease) and not go through with the actual pay off.
Foreshadowing helps events in your story make sense and seem less random. There are different degrees of foreshadowing. For instance you can have a very subtle hint of foreshadowing, like a character could mention something in an inner monologue or in a conversation. They don’t need to dwell on the topic, but something mentioned even in passing can be enough to plant a seed of a potential plot twist.
These types of foreshadowing can be sprinkled in multiple times if you want the audience to pick up on it, or you could simply use it once or twice. If you use subtle foreshadowing, you can get some pretty large payoffs and unexpected turns. For instance two characters could be talking and one mentions how badly they dislike another character. You have now given the audience a bit of knowledge into the relationship between characters, and by opening that door, you may need to resolve that conflict.
Conversely, you could argue that continual foreshadowing of an event leads up to a large payoff as well. Imagine a show where a boy and girl character hint at a relationship and finally get together after several seasons.
In both instances we are building up an anticipation for a future event. By setting them up in certain ways, we can help control our audiences emotions. When using the subtle foreshadowing, it’s possible to sneak things past the audience leading to more surprising events. Not all events need to be foreshadowed, but I am a believer in using it when possible. If you consistently foreshadow an event it is just a matter of time until that needs to be resolved. Imagine the relationship between Kagome and InuYasha from the series InuYasha. The whole series we can see that there is a spark between the two characters, but we have no idea if Kagome is going to stay in feudal Japan or if she is going to return to her own time.
The longer you play out consistent foreshadowing, the more critical it is to have it pay off. If two characters have a discussion and one mentions something in passing, but we don’t do anything with it as a writer. Such as the above example about a character disliking another, if we choose to do nothing with this then it seems like a harmless sentence. But, if we have two characters continually in an emotional flux and then don’t resolve the issue, your audience is going to feel let down after the payoff.
One of the reasons, in my opinion, that InuYasha is a great example, is because we know something between InuYasha and Kagome has to happen before the show can end. Will they stay together or will Kagome return home? Will she still visit? We are consistently teased, however, the payoff comes in it not being predictable. We know Kagome is going to have to make that decision and some point, and that is why we keep watching. Is she going to stay in her era or remain in feudal Japan. Now if the entire story was in feudal Japan and Kagome was born and raised in that time, the story becomes a little easier to predict. In the actual story, Kagome needs to decide to stay with someone who she has fallen in love with, InuYasha, or she has to return home to her family.
With this struggle set up, we can see Kagome going either way and makes us eager to hear her decision. She stands to lose something no matter which way she chooses.
Anticipation is also something I read about when I was learning about storyboarding and background design for manga. That is something called a set up. Let’s say we have two characters battling to the death for the fate of the universe. They are both engaged in an epic struggle and all of a sudden, one of the characters uses a weapon and defeats the other character. Seems a little anticlimactic right? It seems like a cop out, that we didn’t think things through. However, if we set the stage that the characters were fighting in an room with weapons, or a previous henchman was defeated and lost is weapon etc, we can ease into a resolution through those means.
Imagine a typical slasher movie. Our main female character is running from a crazed killer. As she stumbles and trips trying to get away, she comes across a payphone. Wait, what? Yes, she comes across a payphone. Well, that was convenient… That’s how an audience thinks in scenarios where there isn’t a set up. All we need to do for this to be a more successful piece of the story is to foreshadow the phone. If this was a comic, manga or movie, we can suffice by showing the phone in a shot or background before the character interacts with the object. This way the audience knows that object exists in this environment and it exists before the character interacts with it. In a straight writing style you can set it up through your description of the environment as she runs or that she spots one and makes her way towards it, or she even knows that one exists a few blocks away b/c she walks past it all the time going to school.
By filling in spots like this, you can craft a story that should be freed up from plot holes and have the audience enjoying themselves.