When I was a secondary school English teacher periodically professional development days would come up and I would be anxious for the break from routine even though I hated to lose the day with my classes. Every now and then, however, a day would come which made the break in routine absolutely worthwhile.
One such day began in the cafeteria of our small school with about thirty teachers sprawled at the tables waiting for the guest speaker of the morning. Our principal introduced someone–I can’t remember whether male or female even–and the day began. What I do remember is these two words:
The speaker showed our group how beginning our lessons with some manner of interest-grabbing device could prepare our students to learn. This might be a question: How much money do you have in your pocket? Did you see [insert popular television show] last night?
Or it might be something you have brought with you: one year I had to teach Marketing which was not in my field but has had a lot of relevance in my life, especially now that I am an author. In marketing there is something that the textbook called the marketing mix. I brought in my blender, set it up on the desk, added paper titles of all the elements that make up the marketing mix, plus water. Then I turned it on. Those lackadaisical grade twelve students came alive throughout this demonstration and my lesson was a hit. (Of course tipping over the blender full of gooey paper later in the trunk of my car was not such a hit with my husband!)
Or the anticipatory set might be something you say. “Come into the bathroom,” I said to my husband and two teen-aged kids, “and I’ll show you a trick.” After the usual amount of kidding and kibbitzing, they followed me and I pointed out that I felt all three of them needed help in learning how to change the empty toilet paper roll for a full one. As they giggled and guffawed, I did the lesson. We all had fun and, amazingly, from that day toilet paper rolls got changed by everyone, not just me.
Our readers need anticipatory sets in order to become engaged in our writing. Volumes have been written on the first paragraph, the first page, the first word even, whether we should start a novel with a question, with a preface, with an action scene–you name it. We writers search long and hard to find that certain something that will lure the fly into our various webs.
Try going to the library or the closest book store and do a study of first pages of books in your genre or not. Which ones use a certain technique that forces you to keep reading? Make note of ten different techniques or books which lure you in and then try each of them out on your work-in-progress or for new projects. Remember that anticipatory set phrase and make sure each opening makes the reader need to read on.
Consider leaving a comment on your own experiences with anticipatory set both in writing, speaking, and life.
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