Do you like to surprise your reader? - Page 3


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Thread: Do you like to surprise your reader?

  1. #21
    Quote Originally Posted by Taylor View Post
    Do you like to surprise your reader and if so, how do you do it?
    I would if I had some more skill at it. I like to think I’m fair-to-middling at taking readers on journeys but surprising them narratively somewhat eludes me unless it happens by mistake. I have an idea for a short story that has a surprise in it, a hopefully cool reveal somewhere at the centre, but I’m not sure how to write it such that it works. It’s definitely my next thing to crack.


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  2. #22
    Quote Originally Posted by Taylor View Post
    I really like your advice...and I think the concept of GOOD explanation or reason is key. How do you test for "GOOD"?
    Just like my answer in the "Write what you know" thread. Make it make sense. Of course, the more complicated the scenario, the more details to account for. And if you've missed something, hopefully an early reader will point it out to you. But really, I think authors should be able to catch oversights in their own read through.

    Quote Originally Posted by Taylor View Post
    I'm really drawn to this technique. I am trying to do this in my current WIP. But I feel like to make this really work without making the reader feel you tricked them, you can't just reveal it all at the end as a complete surprise. To me it's a better read when you start to reveal hints of the opposite situation near the downward end of the arc. This way if the reader starts to put two and two together, it is more satisfying when they realize they figured it out. I always piss off my husband when we are watching a movie and I figure out the ending and blurt it out before he gets it. Strangely it gives me a sense of accomplishment. We’re a little competitive that way.
    In the example I discussed, I never told the reader that X was happening, only to later reveal Y. I set up the action so the reader would assume X was happening. The MC assumed X, but I only revealed that in his dialogue (spoken or internal). I never said it in the voice of the narrator. Like I said, I made sure the dialogue supported either conclusion, and that was the tricky part. If a reader decided to go back and "check me", I wanted them to think, "OH! That's what THAT meant!" and not "Gotcha!".

    So each action and each line of dialogue had to support both interpretations. Creating that puzzle was fun. Once it was time for the confusion to end, I didn't spring it all at once. I had the MC start to doubt a couple of his preconceptions. That gave the reader their last chance to turn it around in their mind before the MC finally states, in disgust, what he believes is really going on. In truth, I've only discussed it with two readers, but both of them bought X until the MC stated Y. LOL

    On not giving them a surprise being a surprise:
    Quote Originally Posted by Taylor View Post
    See now I think this would be harder to write well, but so much more interesting. I might incorporate this idea into a future project. Thanks!
    I've been reading a series of books where in the first four books, the MCs transportation is sabotaged in an effort to murder them. Like, four books in a row. Now I'm programmed to expect that to happen, but it hasn't happened in the last four books. The author absolutely overdid that mechanic by doing it in four books in a row, but since he did, now he gets free tension in every successive book. LOL

    One way to do it is have the characters expect a certain event at a certain time, then just not have the specific thing they worry about happen. I think there's a big difference between telling the reader one thing and doing another, versus having a character expect something that doesn't happen. It's quite fair for a character to be paranoid.

  3. #23
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    I don't think surprised is the best word to use.

    Unexpected maybe? I dunno.

    I don't think any reader should be surprised that a character did a thing or some action took place. The reader should be given sufficient clues that once a thing happens, they may feel "surprised" but not totally. I like the "Oh wow, I forgot about that!" moments.

    Deux ex machina should be avoided at all cost. Which is why re-writes are so awesome.
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  4. #24
    There are two slightly different issues. I love being surprised as reader, and I like to put that in my writing.

    But if the character is surprised, AND the reader is surprised, you have done most of the work to making the reader feel what that character is feeling. That would be a really important second advantage.
    Modern Punctuation and Grammar: Tools not Rules is finally published and available for $3 Hidden Content . Should be mandatory for serious writers, IMO. Italics, Fragments, Disfluency, lists, etc. But also commas and paragraph length. Discussed use of adverbs, and ends with a chapters on the awesome moment and the grammar of action scenes. Description at my Hidden Content

  5. #25
    I read the article— cool! I’m trying to think of times that I’ve felt tricked... but maybe those books don’t make it to my library, I don’t know.

    Our writer’s group has a member who is all about the “big reveal”. But it ends up not being suspenseful and feels defeating for the reader— basically another weird twist on top of other things that also don’t make sense. My husband (who also loves the idea of reveals) and I have talked at length about what is going wrong so that we don’t make the same mistake and we do try to convey our reaction to our friend, but it’s slow going with him. He only half-listens and then says “I just love reveals.” The problem is that he sees holes in what he has written that he thinks his readers should be on the edge of their seats for answers to but because there are other holes that he doesn’t care about then for the reader there’s tons of holes— so many that we are only reading out of courtesy (sorry!) to our friend. When the “big reveal” happens it feels like we’ve been asked to accept something strange the way we’ve been asked to accept every other strange thing in the book.

    What I keep asking him to try is to very deliberately plant his question in the mind of a character. . Especially since he writes fantasy and so much is just explained by “magic” that if he doesn’t deliberately create a question for at least one of his characters then we think it’s just part of all the other holes. And you know... a writer doesn’t tell you everything so unless there is a step by step for everything going on then there are natural holes. I don’t know... we keep studying this idea actually. I also have had to say to my husband several times “Why hold back on that information? When they get it, it’s not going to rock their world— it’s just someone’s name which would help the reader to orient, so whether you tell it now or tell it later— big deal?” Oh I’m so mean! I HAVE to say though that this experience has improved my husband’s writing 100%. He really started digging into what is suspenseful and what isn’t and it’s just all working so well imo!


    I think it’s hard to put yourself into your reader’s shoes when you’re the writer, I think. I think it’s a particularly important part of the art form or craft of writing and probably makes a huge impact on how and what you write. What do you give and when? It’s not enough just to know the story yourself and describe it well, is it? Or at least for many genres it isn’t enough.

    That might be the rule of thumb maybe for “reveals” might be to ask if the piece of information would be helpful to the reader earlier? If withheld does it make the information cooler? Or is it just a piece of information to accept and incorporate into that world like any other piece of information? Also, is the question planted in the mind of the reader or are they just going along for the ride?

    The Prestige is a fascinating look at reveals done right and the concept of reveals, imo.
    Last edited by Llyralen; February 4th, 2021 at 07:09 PM.

  6. #26
    Quote Originally Posted by Llyralen View Post
    Out writer’s group has a member who is all about the “big reveal”. But it ends up not being suspenseful and defeating for the reader— basically another weird twist on top of other things that also don’t make sense.

    ... he writes fantasy and so much is just explained by “magic” that if he doesn’t deliberately create a question for at least one of his characters then we think it’s just part of all the other holes.

    That might be the rule of thumb maybe for “reveals”. Basically would the piece of information be helpful earlier? If withheld does it make the information cooler? Or is it just a piece of information to accept and incorporate into that world like any other piece of information? The Prestige is a fascinating look at reveals done right and the concept of reveals, imo.
    Most of the time when I think about 'reveals', I think about mysteries. The best mysteries are what I call "Fair Mysteries", in that the reader gets all the clues at the same time as the characters responsible for solving it, and those are not easy to write. Even the best mystery writers sometimes pull a rabbit out of the hat at the end, and it makes me roll my eyes.

    When magic is involved, it's actually quite a bit more simple. An author should not resolve a crisis with magic they haven't given the reader at least a glimpse of earlier. You surprise the reader by using something they know is in the toolbox, but in a clever way. Anything else is either inexperience, lack of talent, laziness, or a straight up goof missed by both author and editor. I'm about to do something on that order to end my WIP. A magical contrivance I've shown the reader three times is going to resolve the climax, but in a way I don't believe the reader will expect. I want the reader to do a facepalm and say, "Why didn't *I* think of that?"

  7. #27
    And this is probably true just for the movies, but James Bond gets into a hopeless situation, and he is surely going to fail and die, and he pulls out of his pocket . . . a device we were told about at the start of the movie. And that I have always forgotten about. So I get this element of surprise resolution, but it is totally fair.
    Modern Punctuation and Grammar: Tools not Rules is finally published and available for $3 Hidden Content . Should be mandatory for serious writers, IMO. Italics, Fragments, Disfluency, lists, etc. But also commas and paragraph length. Discussed use of adverbs, and ends with a chapters on the awesome moment and the grammar of action scenes. Description at my Hidden Content

  8. #28
    Quote Originally Posted by EmmaSohan View Post
    And this is probably true just for the movies, but James Bond gets into a hopeless situation, and he is surely going to fail and die, and he pulls out of his pocket . . . a device we were told about at the start of the movie. And that I have always forgotten about. So I get this element of surprise resolution, but it is totally fair.
    Good example. You have to be shown though or otherwise you’re just like “He had that? Well okay, sure, I guess.”

  9. #29
    Quote Originally Posted by bdcharles View Post
    I would if I had some more skill at it. I like to think I’m fair-to-middling at taking readers on journeys but surprising them narratively somewhat eludes me unless it happens by mistake. I have an idea for a short story that has a surprise in it, a hopefully cool reveal somewhere at the centre, but I’m not sure how to write it such that it works. It’s definitely my next thing to crack.
    If I'm using In Secret Dreams as an example, then I would say you have a ton of skill in surprising readers with narative!

    What are you thinking is a surprise?. Maybe our definitions differ.
    Sometimes in the waves of change we find our new direction...
    - unknown

  10. #30
    Quote Originally Posted by vranger View Post
    In the example I discussed, I never told the reader that X was happening, only to later reveal Y. I set up the action so the reader would assume X was happening. The MC assumed X, but I only revealed that in his dialogue (spoken or internal). I never said it in the voice of the narrator. Like I said, I made sure the dialogue supported either conclusion, and that was the tricky part. If a reader decided to go back and "check me", I wanted them to think, "OH! That's what THAT meant!" and not "Gotcha!".
    Oh yes, perfect way to describe it! It must be a pleasant surprise.

    Quote Originally Posted by vranger View Post
    So each action and each line of dialogue had to support both interpretations. Creating that puzzle was fun. Once it was time for the confusion to end, I didn't spring it all at once. I had the MC start to doubt a couple of his preconceptions. That gave the reader their last chance to turn it around in their mind before the MC finally states, in disgust, what he believes is really going on. In truth, I've only discussed it with two readers, but both of them bought X until the MC stated Y. LOL
    The puzzle part is fun. I'm doing something similar with dialogue, where mutiple conversations that are overheard by the same group of people, but they all hear different points at different times with a different sub group of people. And the conversations all relate to the same crime. So the reader should know that the conversations will all eventually come together for the Aha moment. Depending on their understanding of the topic different readers will figure it out sooner than others. Maybe that's not unique....but I'm having fun with it anyway!

    Quote Originally Posted by vranger View Post
    On not giving them a surprise being a surprise:

    One way to do it is have the characters expect a certain event at a certain time, then just not have the specific thing they worry about happen. I think there's a big difference between telling the reader one thing and doing another, versus having a character expect something that doesn't happen. It's quite fair for a character to be paranoid.
    Yeah I like this...it's sort of like real life. Mine anyway...lol!
    Last edited by Taylor; February 4th, 2021 at 08:23 PM.
    Sometimes in the waves of change we find our new direction...
    - unknown

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