I’ve noticed something about an audience’s reaction to live music: how the applause happens.
Obviously, there’s applause at the end.
And at the beginning, there’s applause—twice.
Some people recognize the opening notes on the guitar, the first piano chord, the drum riff leading it off, and instantly cheer for what they know is coming. There’s a medium sized round of applause in the opening seconds.
Then, the singer starts the song, and people recognize the words. That applause is a roar. People recognize words more than they recognize music.
Some bands play around with this. Bob Dylan is famous for rearranging his music so much that, until he starts singing, even fans aren’t sure where he’s going—and sometimes, not even then. Okay, we always eventually get it. He’s an extreme example. Sometimes a new intro delays the applause until the singer makes the song clear.
Comedians and storytellers play on this. Telegraph where you’re going with a joke, a humorous story, and people will slowly start to get it. A rising chuckle, a few laughs, and before the punchline everyone gets it—and then, you leave it there. They’ve figured it out and told themselves the joke. Don’t kill it by nailing it down.
Listeners, readers, those people who take stories in, whether they’re jokes, morality plays, songs, are smart. They love story, they understand it. They don’t need to be led by the hand, they just need a compass and a map.
As long as you’ve marked the trail clearly, letting readers find their own path makes a more satisfying experience.