The Audience Learns Part 4 supplement — Denial and Reward

A fascinating book that you can read in an hour (and then may find yourself revisiting over and over): Matthew Frederick’s 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School

The 101 things in question are short observations accompanied by illustrations.  Many of Frederick’s insights about architecture have relevance to other fields.  Here is one.

Use “denial and reward” to enrich passage through the built environment. 

As we move through buildings, towns, and cities, we mentally connect visual cues from our surroundings to our needs and expectations.  The satisfaction and richness of our experiences are largely the result of the ways in which these connections are made.

Denial and reward can encourage the formulation of a rich experience.  In designing paths of travel, try presenting users a view of their target—a staircase, building entrance, monument, or other element—then momentarily screen it from view as they continue their approach.  Reveal the target a second time from a different angle or with an interesting new detail.  Divert users onto an unexpected path to create additional intrigue or even momentary lostness; then reward them with other interesting experiences or other views of their target.  This additional “work” will make the journey more interesting, the arrival more rewarding.

 #11 of Matthew Frederick’s 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School

Creators in a variety of mediums make use of this technique. 

In Fiction

Consider, for example, the tantalizing withholding of the title character’s entrance into F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby.

  • We see Gatsby’s name in the title, and in the introduction we hear of his impact on the narrator, Nick.
  • Nick moves in nextdoor to Gatsby’s mansion.
  • At Daisy and Tom’s, Nick notices Daisy’s reaction to mention of his name. “Gastby?  What Gatsby?”
  • Later that night, Nick sees Gatsby’s silhouetted profile, looking at the stars.  As Nick tries to determine what far off light Gatsby might have been looking at, Gatsby disappears.
  • From next door, Nick witnesses the spectacle of Gatsby’s lavish parties, the deliveries of liquor, oranges, food, tables, the orchestra musicians, and so forth.
  • One day, a chauffeur walks over an invitation referencing a “little party.”
  • As Nick weaves his way into the scene, the other party guests are evasive as to Gatsby’s whereabouts.
  • Nick overhears rumors from others in the crowd: Gatsby murdered someone?  He was a German spy?
  • Nick wanders into the house, peruses the library, talking with a stranger, and then during a lull in the action, another stranger sees Nick in the hall.  “Your face is familiar.  Weren’t you in the Third Division in the war?”  Yes he was.  The two of them talk. Nick’s sort-of girlfriend, Jordan, comes up to the two of them.

    “Having a gay time now?” she asks.

    Nick explains to the stranger, “This is an unusual party for me because I haven’t even met the host.  I live over there and this man Gatsby had his chauffeur walk over the invitation."

    And the stranger replies, “I’m Gatsby.”


At this point, we are almost one-third of the way into the novel.  Our denied access to Gatsby and then the sudden reward of encountering him helps to convey a sense of expectation that echoes the long wait Gatsby himself has endured as he plans to win back Daisy.  The book revolves around his hope that his denial will end with reward.

In Music

Musical examples abound,   One form of denial and reward is dissonance resolving into consonance  Bach's Prelude #1 in C Major thrives on this principle.  (This video begins with 15 seconds of silence.)


Notice how the dialogue between dissonance and consonance is roughly the length of one breath cycle; we inhale one and exhale the other.  It suggests that this tension between denial and reward is necessary to sustain the music.

Another musical instance of denial and reward would be a song with an introduction that delays the entrance of the band.


The rollercoaster metaphor, present in the melodic oscillation of the guitar riff,  also applies to the long, suspenseful ascent to the band's entrance. The denial and reward is created by the extended, tiered instrumental introduction.  The guitar starts, then enter the hi-hat and bass drum (playing only on the weak beats to add suspense), then agogo bell . . . 

roller coaster climb via

. . . and  finally, with a whiplash drum fill . . . 


the song plunges down into the verse. 

Thank you for reading.