How to use Anticipation to Heighten Drama


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Using Anticipation to Increase Drama

microphone by Miyukiko © 2013

microphone by Miyukiko © 2013

Remember when you were a kid and you knew you were going to visit the local fair or carnival or circus and you just couldn’t wait and you’d speculate on all the things you’d do there and what kind of day you’d have and what the weather was going to be like and what you’d do if it rained and how crushed you’d be if the hay-fever you were suffering turned out to be a cold and you missed out etc?

Every kid has a gift for drama and one of the keys to heightening drama is “anticipation”.

By anticipating all the good and bad possibilities pregnant in an upcoming event we heighten our investment and excitement. As kids we’d instantly make an event more dramatic through our anticipation of it.

It stands to reason then, that when writing a script we can increase the investment, excitement, dread, and anticipation of the listening audience by doing the same. When we use our characters to spell out the consequences of choices, events, etc. we increase the drama.

Here’s a simple exchange.

ASSISTANT: (CRYING OUT IN PANIC) Dr Sumner, we’ve detected an asteroid heading directly for the earth!
DR SUMNER: Good Lord, that’s a catastrophe! Call the president!

This is pretty pedestrian. A disaster occurs and our lead character (Dr Sumner) responds.

We could add a little more interest by articulating the options available to Dr Sumner as follows…

ASSISTANT: (CRYING OUT IN PANIC) Dr Sumner, we’ve detected an asteroid heading directly for the earth!
DR SUMNER: Good Lord, that’s a catastrophe! Don’t just stand there blithering. What are our options?
ASSISTANT: Protocol suggests we need to get in contact with emergency and relief services… and the military… and the president.
DR SUMNER: Call the president. I’ll grab the emergency plan from the safe.

But it’s still not very dramatic. If we really want to up the drama we need to include some anticipation.

ASSISTANT: (CRYING OUT IN PANIC) Dr Sumner, we’ve detected an asteroid heading directly for the earth!
DR SUMNER: Good Lord, that’s a catastrophe! Even a moderate sized asteroid striking the ocean will result in massive flooding. Thousands of lives will be lost. Not to mention what will happen if it makes landfall. The detonation will be huge. Enough earth and rock will be thrown into the atmosphere to create years of extended winter. Crop failures. Starvation. The death toll could be unimaginable. (BEAT) Don’t just stand there blithering. What are our options?
ASSISTANT: Protocol suggests we need to get in contact with emergency and relief services… and the military… and the president.
DR SUMNER: Call the president. I’ll grab the emergency plan from the safe.

By anticipating the results of future events and choices the drama is increased. As a writing technique, this one provides a big payoff for a relatively small investment.

What techniques do you employ to heighten drama for your audience? Tell us your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.

This article is © 2017 by Philip Craig Robotham – all rights reserved.