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Anatomy of a Gap

Updated: Apr 17, 2020

I define a "gap" as the wonderful opening that develops between experience and expectation, the rift that tears open when actuality pulls away from anticipation.

Often called a "reversal" in that what occurs is the opposite of the expected outcome.

However, I like the concept of "gap" because the really good ones cause a seismic event in my guts, as if a weakened fault-line has splintered where tectonic plates diverge.

I can almost feel the strain as the unexpected shift throws me off-balance.

Let's conjure up a scene, then analyze the gap:

Susan receives a heads-up that her husband, Vince, has been offered a much-deserved promotion at work. She is relieved, assured now that their recent financial troubles will soon be resolved. She pulls on a dinner dress and will shout "Congratulations!" the moment he walks into the house. When Vince arrives, he yanks off his tie and crams it into the kitchen garbage can, spitting angrily that he has finally quit his horrible job and is never going back there.

First, the setting.

We are alongside Susan at this juncture. She is the POV character.

We know what she knows. We can more or less hear her thoughts. Vince was offered a promotion. They have money problems. This news brings her relief.

Next, the expectation.

Since this is Susan's POV, meaning we are "with" her in the telling, the expectation belongs to her.

She expects Vince to behave in a positive way, much like her own upbeat reaction amid the context of their current financial woes.

The "expectation statement" deals with a timeline in front of the action. That is, it conveys to the audience what the POV character believes will occur in the future, usually soon.

That's a dead give-away. Since anticipation is a future-focused frame of mind, expectation statements are therefore typically written in the future tense.

Next, the event.

Vince arrives home. We are now back in "present time" as indicated by the tense.

Lastly, the gap.

Vince is aggressive with his tie. Does he work in an office? Probably.

He crams that tie into the kitchen garbage can. Did he turn down the promotion? Was it revoked? Did Susan mis-hear the news? What could possibly have happened at work to bring out this behaviour? Maybe even: will their money problems now get worse??

This is the reversal of expectation.

Action contrary to anticipation.

This is the gap.

It is enough to be confronted with the gap (setting + expectation + event).

Do you end the scene / chapter here? With all those questions dangling?

Or do you have Susan confront Vince for an explanation?

You're the writer - you choose whichever course of action best suits your story.

Me? I for one like raising up story questions and letting them breathe for a bit, instead of rushing through the tension to get to the information.


And just for the record, Vince was indeed offered the promotion.

But later his boss witnessed Vince sneaking a fistful of coins from the tip-bowl in the cafeteria, and so declared, "If you can't be trusted with a little, how are we supposed to trust you with a lot?"

Vince was promptly terminated.

His anger at home was merely a performance to gloss over his fear and hurt and shame of having been fired.

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