When I was little, Mom was divorced with sole custody of me, working two jobs, no alimony, only $20 a month in child support. Still, every year, Christmas brought me every single thing I’d been begging for all year. I was dazzled.
When I was grown and had my own child, Mom told me the trick.
“Right after Christmas, when the toys went on sale, I would pick out some things I thought you’d be old enough to enjoy the next year and I’d put them on layaway. Then, all year, I would talk those things up and get you all excited about them.”
And so it is with writing. (I’ve said it before and I’ll surely say it many many times again: everything is about writing.)
The trick to fulfilling reader expectations is not to follow through on your promises. The trick is to create expectations in the reader of what you intend to give them.
Ever see The Sand Pebbles? It’s famous for being the first American Hollywood movie where the main hero, played by a major star, freakin’ dies at the end. Let’s just say the whole movie was sad as all get-out, but, at that point, totally fulfilled viewer expectations, which were: death is all around, good intentions won’t help, poor decisions sure as hell don’t help, dying isn’t the worst thing that can happen to you and is (after all) inevitable.
My favorite novel for illustrating this is THE FACE OF TRESPASS by Ruth Rendell. Brilliant! The very first paragraph, which seems full of random stuff, plants the seeds of everything that happens subsequently.
Decide what you want to happen and how you want that to affect your reader. Start laying down the groundwork for that from the first and build on that (if you’re a pantser, write your rough draft, think of that as a rough sketch of a house plan, then go back and finalize the groundwork and build-up).
And that, boys and girls, is the trick.
A WRITING PROMPT FOR YOU: Take a novel, short story, television episode, or movie. Note the outcome and how you felt about it. If it fulfilled your expectations (not your hopes — that’s different), begin with the beginning and trace how the end was in the beginning.