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Do you like to surprise your reader? (1 Viewer)

EmmaSohan

WF Veterans
Thinking about this, what are we discussing really? In any writing, the writer should be trying to surprise the reader. It's the essence of a page turner. Question > answer > question > answer and so forth. The answer can either be a mystery solved, a conundrum resolved or an unexpected tangent/twist.

I think for this to not get in the weeds, a specific definition needs to be established. I personally, when I first saw the thread, thought it was about 'twist' endings, which are great but often overused and seldom subtle. Discussing what makes them subtle would then focus the discussion specifically and stop it getting in the weeds.

A good idea, though I was planning on saying the opposite. The discussion is focusing on the big surprises, or mysteries. My style of writing is to, as much as possible, put in little surprises. I think there is a flow to writing, a direction, but I turn that off for something the character does that might be unexpected. We should talk about the techniques for doing that.

I'm thinking surprise with insight, surprise with delight, surprise with disgust, surprise with pathos. Like it's salt or sugar and can be added to anything.

Added example:
He has a house, a dog, a toaster, and a level of maturity I suspect I haven't yet obtained. (TrickyTwenty-Two,Evanovich)
 

TheMightyAz

Senior Member
A good idea, though I was planning on saying the opposite. The discussion is focusing on the big surprises, or mysteries. My style of writing is to, as much as possible, put in little surprises. I think there is a flow to writing, a direction, but I turn that off for something the character does that might be unexpected. We should talk about the techniques for doing that.

I'm thinking surprise with insight, surprise with delight, surprise with disgust, surprise with pathos. Like it's salt or sugar and can be added to anything.

Added example:

I understand what you mean but that's the bread and butter of good writing in general. The second paragraph may have a question answered in the third paragraph. The fourth paragraph may have a question answered on the next page. The first paragraph may have a question answered in chapter 10 and so forth. It's like a constant overlap of tiny mysteries and questions, answered short term or long term.

You could have a character doing something unexpected but without at least some foreshadowing of that, it would come across as out of character. In terms of 'techniques' they're endless and none specific. Perhaps give me an example of what you mean? I might be misinterpreting.
 

EmmaSohan

WF Veterans
I understand what you mean but that's the bread and butter of good writing in general. The second paragraph may have a question answered in the third paragraph. The fourth paragraph may have a question answered on the next page. The first paragraph may have a question answered in chapter 10 and so forth. It's like a constant overlap of tiny mysteries and questions, answered short term or long term.

You could have a character doing something unexpected but without at least some foreshadowing of that, it would come across as out of character. In terms of 'techniques' they're endless and none specific. Perhaps give me an example of what you mean? I might be misinterpreting.

If there's a question, the answer usually isn't unexpected. If your MC might live or die, the reader knows those possibilities. In a way, surprise is inconsistent with suspense or drawing out a scene.

In my example above, there's no foreshadowing, and it's not out of character, it just isn't what the reader expects. The odd-ending-to-a-conjunction is just one way of doing it, though the easiest to give an example for.

Jade has had two interactions with Alex. High school. Everything that happens in this scene is plausible and in character; Alex is already known to follow his own drummer.

It's before school, and I'm sitting in a stall in the girls' bathroom, softly crying. For the third time one of my friends knocks on the stall door to see if I'm okay. "Go away," I mumble. I'm not ready to pretend to be normal.

And a male voice says, "Jade?"

Alex? Really, we don't get a lot of guys in the girls' bathroom. I wipe the tears out of my eyes and see his shoes. "Yeah."

"What the hell are you doing in there crying?"

What I am I doing in here? Me? What's he doing in the girls' bathroom? "Just go away."

"Are you decent? I'm coming in."

Am I decent? He's coming in? I'm dressed, fortunately. Frantically I try to wipe the tears off my face. "Yes, but don't come in. What the hell are you doing in here?"

He pops the latch with a pen, opens the door, and stands in front of me. "I got you two posters."

Is that what you meant by bread-and-butter of writing?
 

TheMightyAz

Senior Member
If there's a question, the answer usually isn't unexpected. If your MC might live or die, the reader knows those possibilities. In a way, surprise is inconcistent with suspense or drawing out a scene.

In my example above, there's no foreshadowing, and it's not out of character, it just isn't what the reader expects. The odd-ending-to-a-conjunction is just one way of doing it, though the easiest to give an example for.

Jade has had two interactions with Alex. High school. Everything that happens in this scene is plausible and in character; Alex is already known to follow his own drummer.



Is that what you meant by bread-and-butter of writing?

That's in character though, right? You've written the character in such a way that it is something he'd do. A question does not have to be specifically asked. It can be part of the narrative that throws that question up. It's not going to be something like 'Will bill get the girl?'. It'll be a sequence of events showing how bill has tried and failed several times. That's what I mean by 'question'. It's just a word to cover mysteries that form from the narrative itself, not a direct 'will bill get the girl'.

I wouldn't necessarily call a boy going into a girl's toilet a surprise. I would however call Luke finding out his father is Vadar a surprise though. That's one that did come from nowhere and wasn't foreshadowed, but it works because it's plausible within the universe Lucas created. It also doesn't rely on any character traits and it only relies on plot.
 

MistWolf

Senior Member
Thinking about this, what are we discussing really? In any writing, the writer should be trying to surprise the reader. It's the essence of a page turner. Question > answer > question > answer and so forth. The answer can either be a mystery solved, a conundrum resolved or an unexpected tangent/twist.

Exactly
 

vranger

Staff member
Board Moderator
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!

I'd love to read this when it's ready. Sounds VERY interesting. :)
 

Llyralen

Senior Member
Thinking about this, what are we discussing really? In any writing, the writer should be trying to surprise the reader. It's the essence of a page turner. Question > answer > question > answer and so forth. The answer can either be a mystery solved, a conundrum resolved or an unexpected tangent/twist.

I think for this to not get in the weeds, a specific definition needs to be established. I personally, when I first saw the thread, thought it was about 'twist' endings, which are great but often overused and seldom subtle. Discussing what makes them subtle would then focus the discussion specifically and stop it getting in the weeds.

I agree, there are probably different tactics for small surprises or huge plot twists. The article seemed to show a few medium to big sized twists and/or surprises. The writer says surprise, don’t trick. He says make sure it doesn’t feel manipulative.

Do you guys have any examples of when you felt tricked or manipulated while reading?
 

vranger

Staff member
Board Moderator
Here is an example of what our friend does: Our friend’s main character is almost indestructible and is basically omnipotent

Not an uncommon rookie mistake, but terrible, terrible writing. I could feel a bit guilty here, because I have a hero in my fantasy series who has a talisman level enchanted sword, and it's unwise to take him on in a sword fight. However, about two-thirds of the way into the first book he leads a group into a trap and takes a cut across a leg that cripples him. You can't have supermen hanging around to save every day. The writers of Superman comics understood that. Most of the time, Superman's powers are for various reasons not the solution to his current adventure, and he has to think his way into a solution rather than power through it.

And he’s killing bad guys left and right except for the main bad guy and then out of the blue he just introduced other bad guy who he has difficulty killing.

One of my quibbles with questionable screenwriting, too. The hero is a crack shot who takes down henchmen right and left, but always missed the main villain. LOL Bad, lazy plotting.

He then spends the next chapter on a back story about the bad guy’s childhood where he learns to be a killer from his father and where his father teaches him to put someone’s essence into this magic cloak. “. The chapter then returns to the fight scene where the MC kills a bunch of other guys.

Yet another rookie mistake. I've known good authors who can pull out of dialogue for a couple of pages of backstory, but I've never seen them do it from action. Plus, a chapter length backstory doesn't fly.

It is at this moment of our writer’s group that I say “You should put this flashback before the fight. It makes us interested in this bad guy’s character and builds suspense.” Our friend says, “No because I want you to wonder why the MC can’t kill him.” I said “I never wondered that in the moment because he was still at it.”

It sounds like this poor guy is a lost cause. Nothing he's done is unfixable when it happens in a first effort, but it's unfixable if the guy feels he has nothing to learn and has no curiosity about whether he's making bad decisions in plotting and characterization. I'm not a big fan of the beta reader thing myself, at least not for experienced writers, but this guy's only hope may be to have some beta readers who he doesn't know personally critique his work and each tell him with similar notes what a pile of crap he's writing.
 

Llyralen

Senior Member
It sounds like this poor guy is a lost cause. Nothing he's done is unfixable when it happens in a first effort, but it's unfixable if the guy feels he has nothing to learn and has no curiosity about whether he's making bad decisions in plotting and characterization. I'm not a big fan of the beta reader thing myself, at least not for experienced writers, but this guy's only hope may be to have some beta readers who he doesn't know personally critique his work and each tell him with similar notes what a pile of crap he's writing.


LOL! It is pretty sad that we’ve learned so much about what not to do from him!
 
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Llyralen

Senior Member
If there's a question, the answer usually isn't unexpected. If your MC might live or die, the reader knows those possibilities. In a way, surprise is inconsistent with suspense or drawing out a scene.

In my example above, there's no foreshadowing, and it's not out of character, it just isn't what the reader expects. The odd-ending-to-a-conjunction is just one way of doing it, though the easiest to give an example for.

Jade has had two interactions with Alex. High school. Everything that happens in this scene is plausible and in character; Alex is already known to follow his own drummer.



Is that what you meant by bread-and-butter of writing?

I really enjoyed this clip of your story, Emma! It is delightful and I do want to know about the posters and it is like adding salt and sugar isn’t it? I like that very much!
 

Taylor

Friends of WF
It is at this moment of our writer’s group that I say “You should put this flashback before the fight. It makes us interested in this bad guy’s character and builds suspense.”

Our friend says, “No because I want you to wonder why the MC can’t kill him.” I said “I never wondered that in the moment because he was still at it.”

Our friend says “I want my readers to be questioning about that man and the cloak.”
I said “Then plant the question.”
“What?”
“Make it so that the MC is baffled or make it very clear that we should be wondering.”
Our friend: “No..I just think they should have a question and then they find out all of it and it’s like that guy’s cloak is like a portrait of Dorian Gray.”

Okay, what? I would have said it was more like a horcrux, but this is where the experience of reading is that in a fight scene we are just accepting action that is pouring in and I’m not trying to figure out what is going on with the back story of some guy’s cloak. We expect for there to be difficulties in killing bad guys. Was I not to expect that? Should it feel like I’m brushing my teeth and then that something is wrong with the brush and wow...was my brush somehow tampered with by someone who is trying to overthrow the world of dentistry? Anyway... just convoluted expectations of the author for the reader. He keeps thinking we will be on the edge of our seats asking questions we didn’t think to ask.

He was adamant that the chapter should be where it is. I said “If you put the chapter earlier then his death will actually mean something and there will be suspense in the fight and it will make us interested in the fight.” He does this so much that we are all burned out. He thinks any questions that we ask him are manifestations of how into it we are instead of the guide to what it’s like to be on the other side that we hope we are. He assumes he knows the experience of the readers is his basic problem and won’t listen. Sigh....

Haha...now I see what you mean by:

"Also, is the question planted in the mind of the reader or are they just going along for the ride?

I think it's a common error for novices. The assumption that you as a writer should be in control of how and when to dish out the information. And make assumptions about what the reader is assuming from your words. That's why beta readers are so important. I have a great beta reader who checks my work for this. She'll make comments like, "Why does she care?" Or "I didn't even now she was in the room." It's invaluable to me.

But bar none, the worst mistake of a novice is not to listen when people are trying to help. But good on you guys for trying, and like you say, you are learning a lot from the exercise.
 

Llyralen

Senior Member
Haha...now I see what you mean by:



I think it's a common error for novices. The assumption that you as a writer should be in control of how and when to dish out the information. And make assumptions about what the reader is assuming from your words. That's why beta readers are so important. I have a great beta reader who checks my work for this. She'll make comments like, "Why does she care?" Or "I didn't even now she was in the room." It's invaluable to me.

But bar none, the worst mistake of a novice is not to listen when people are trying to help. But good on you guys for trying, and like you say, you are learning a lot from the exercise.


Thank you for reading that, it was long. Also my toothbrush analogy probably didn’t help. Lol. We covered most of this here luckily with talking about putting questions in the mind of your character so that you can experience with them and also talking about setting up before, not after. I do agree that most important of all is to listen. Thank goodness for a good beta reader! I am really looking forward to your book especially with some of the descriptions of what you are doing in this thread.
 

Taylor

Friends of WF
Things learned from listening to authors horrible at set-up and reveal:

1. If you took out the twist or reveal, the story should be interesting enough to hold up on its own.

I love that you said this! I have been thinking this myself, and just not sure how to articulate it. I just finished a couple of recent bestsellers, won't mention names because I'm about to trash them. But, if I wasn't in research mode I wouldn't have finished them. It's like they start with the crime and then seem like they are in a big rush to get to the end so they can do the big reveal. I guess there is a market for that...a pretty big one. But personally I prefer reading more introspective stories. And stories where I learn something, like a piece of history. I think you and I share that passion.

A great example is Fight Club. (Warning: spoiler incoming,) It was interesting as it was. If Brad Pitt’s character had always just been one of those friends who makes you do stuff you shouldn’t do and Edward Norton killed him, it would be almost as interesting.

2. It should be interesting enough that with the second and third and infinity time you read it, there should still be things you notice and that are interesting.

Example: Fight Club You realize Helena Bonham-Carter’s character is absolutely tragic as you realize how hurt she must be from his brush-offs and how he must be hot and cold.

Example: Sixth-Sense. It is still interesting to go back and see how Bruce Willis is dealing with the grieving of his wife. After the twist you still see it all in an interesting way.

3. If possible it should feel like it was there all along in plain sight.

Exactly! That's what I am shooting for. So I'm slipping little tidbits in all the time. I just hope the pendulum doesn't swing and i put too much in, but a beta reader will be able to help me with that. Do you think it's easier to edit out then add in if too vague?

Example: Fight Club. There are so many places that it almost seemed that the author shoved it in your face, and yet you didn’t see it. It’s the ultimate example because when you watch it again it was there every step of the way, running through-out the whole story.

Okay Example: Knives Out. The clues were there, but going back they don’t tell their own full story in parallel with the original story like Fight Club does. Not step by step anyway. Knives Out is brilliant for the change in genre and how that played with your expectations, but it’s not supposed to be about the twist as much as Fight Club or Sixth Sense.

More great examples:
Example: The Prestige. It’s almost like a second story or alternative story or parallel story becomes available after you know the truth and it makes a re-watching or re-reading so interesting.

Dead to Me (Netflix). This show reveals layer after layer. You keep thinking you know what it’s about. It’s also emotional as well as cerebral. I don’t think that this show is getting nearly enough attention. Honestly I do wonder if that is because it is about women. Sorry, but very true... J.K Rowling’s (who I am mentioning a lot today for some reason) said she chose a boy and removed any femininity in her name because she knew boys would not read a woman author or a female character. This is a truth I have to always admit and face and the more we talk about it the better imo.

Parasite. — planted all sorts of reveals and twists and also felt organic and dynamic. Brilliant.

Most of Hitchcock’s movies are a study in suspense. Sometimes it’s better for an audience/reader to know things that the characters do not.

Thanks for taking the time to set out examples. I have them on my readling, watching list. So right about Hitchcok. He was a master of suspense! I haven't watched one for years, but Psycho would be a good one to start with. How does he hint at Norman Bates?

That’s kind of what we’ve learned in a nutshell. It might be really obvious to others, I don’t know. Hopefully it is of use to someone. The set up is the real work, imo.

Totally agree about the set up. I think that's what slowed me down as I started down the arc. Making sure, enough was in place, and realistic enough that it doesn't stand out. I try to give out my clues mostly in dialogue. This has added a challenge, because not only does it have to inform, the conversation has to sound natural in both speech and placement. Would these two be having this conversation at this time and in this place? If no, it's a huge giveaway.

Your previous post is so useful! Thank you for taking the time to share your analysis. Maybe we can thank your friend for that too. :)

There should be a place on this forum where we can record such informative posts for future reference.
 

Taylor

Friends of WF
Thank you for reading that, it was long. Also my toothbrush analogy probably didn’t help. Lol. We covered most of this here luckily with talking about putting questions in the mind of your character so that you can experience with them and also talking about setting up before, not after. I do agree that most important of all is to listen. Thank goodness for a good beta reader! I am really looking forward to your book especially with some of the descriptions of what you are doing in this thread.

Awe thanks! I wish I could go faster, because I can't wait to have people like you read it. Hopefully by April.

BTW: My pleasure to read!
 

MistWolf

Senior Member
So give it to them already! :)

Heh! A man with a wooden leg has only one shoe to drop.

A storyteller has promises that must be kept. Such as disappearing or killing off characters. I had one very important NPC disappear without a trace. No one knows what happened to him or whether he's alive or dead. I've never even so much as hinted to his fate. It's going to stay that way.

I found myself in a situation where I knew a player character was on her way to her death. She wasn't supposed to die, but the chain of events put into play made it inevitable. My character (also an Elf) even warned her in story she was heading to her death. Orcs, who'd sworn loyalty to another Elf were supposed to go meet a contingent of Elves sent to stop this mission to save the world (because of the political fallout it would create) and sacrifice their lives delaying them long enough for the party to escape. Instead, the PC decided that was her duty. My character and a very important NPC went with her and did engage in an epic battle and have glorious deaths. It wasn't a D&D campaign. It wasn't D&D. In this game, dead id dead. No resurrection, no raise dead, not even reincarnation.

All three characters are dead and will remain so forever. There are promises that must be kept.

No seriously though, I think what you do is amazing. It must require a great deal of skill and a quick mind. How did you get into it?

GI Joe. The original 12 inch GI Joe with Jeeps, space capsules, rifles, pistols, backpacks, bazookas, canteens, bayonets, gear- everything you could want for exciting adventures and storytelling. I built GI Joe a secret headquarters, making tables, chairs and benches from small boxes and used a couple of portable cassette players for computers. GI Joe worked for O.A.S.E.S. (Organization Against Syndicated Enemy Spies) defending the world from world domination by Dr. Starker, head of DesArt (Destroyer's Artists). GI Joe had a long career, brought abruptly to an end by one of my cousin's Barbies who turned out to be a double agent. She slipped poison into GI Joe's hot chocolate. Fortunately, I had more than one GI Joe.

For as long as I can remember, I've had stories in my head. I remember playing "Detective Cat" when I was too young for kindergarten. Grandma had a stuffed leopard that was as big as I was at the age of four. Leopard and I had many, many adventures together. A short time later, we were joined by two smaller wildcats. That's why I so joyfully became a fan of "Calvin & Hobbes".

With my toy cars, I used to imagine a world where automobiles and trucks and Jeeps were actually alive, a world populated by creatures with wheels instead of legs.

We built towns in out backyard, complete with a road system, houses, buildings and an airport for our Tonkas and model aircraft.

Then, my grandmother bought my little brother a roleplaying game from TSR called Top Secret, taking our storytelling to whole new level.

Unfortunately, my writing "career" has always been a matter of sputtering starts. To be truthful, I've been afraid to write my stories because, what if no one liked them? What if I only have one good story in me? And, I lack discipline.

Currently, I'm trying to change that, working a temp job while I struggle to write. That's why I joined this forum and a few others.

Ok, I should stop now and go plot the demise of a tribe of humans at the hands of Elves.
 

Taylor

Friends of WF
Plot surprises can be more commonly referred to as a twist. I thought this article from NY Book Editors blog sets it out well. They pose a good question:

"You can introduce the plot twist whenever you like?

True or false? Plot twists must occur at the climax of the story.

False. Plot twists may appear anywhere within a story but are usually most effective after some careful setup. While it’s technically possible to swing a plot twist within the first chapter, it’s difficult to do. In the beginning of your story, the reader is open and the rules of assumption haven’t been established yet."

https://nybookeditors.com/2018/02/all-about-plot-twists/










 

Taylor

Friends of WF
A good idea, though I was planning on saying the opposite. The discussion is focusing on the big surprises, or mysteries. My style of writing is to, as much as possible, put in little surprises. I think there is a flow to writing, a direction, but I turn that off for something the character does that might be unexpected. We should talk about the techniques for doing that.

I'm thinking surprise with insight, surprise with delight, surprise with disgust, surprise with pathos. Like it's salt or sugar and can be added to anything.

Added example: He has a house, a dog, a toaster, and a level of maturity I suspect I haven't yet obtained. (TrickyTwenty-Two,Evanovich)

Perfect example of surprising the reader when the character is "in character." As a reader, this is the style of writing that keeps my attention. It is so hard to do though!

It's very Oscar Wilde. He was the master! The Importance of Being Earnest:

“I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.”

“If I am occasionally a little over-dressed, I make up for it by being always immensely over-educated.”

“Never speak disrespectfully of Society, Algernon. Only people who can’t get into it do that.”


I could go on forever...


EDIT: But thanks for emphasizing the little surprises. Those are the kind i aspire to do the most as a writer.
 

Taylor

Friends of WF
GI Joe. The original 12 inch GI Joe with Jeeps, space capsules, rifles, pistols, backpacks, bazookas, canteens, bayonets, gear- everything you could want for exciting adventures and storytelling. I built GI Joe a secret headquarters, making tables, chairs and benches from small boxes and used a couple of portable cassette players for computers. GI Joe worked for O.A.S.E.S. (Organization Against Syndicated Enemy Spies) defending the world from world domination by Dr. Starker, head of DesArt (Destroyer's Artists). GI Joe had a long career, brought abruptly to an end by one of my cousin's Barbies who turned out to be a double agent. She slipped poison into GI Joe's hot chocolate. Fortunately, I had more than one GI Joe.

For as long as I can remember, I've had stories in my head. I remember playing "Detective Cat" when I was too young for kindergarten. Grandma had a stuffed leopard that was as big as I was at the age of four. Leopard and I had many, many adventures together. A short time later, we were joined by two smaller wildcats. That's why I so joyfully became a fan of "Calvin & Hobbes".

With my toy cars, I used to imagine a world where automobiles and trucks and Jeeps were actually alive, a world populated by creatures with wheels instead of legs.

We built towns in out backyard, complete with a road system, houses, buildings and an airport for our Tonkas and model aircraft.

Then, my grandmother bought my little brother a roleplaying game from TSR called Top Secret, taking our storytelling to whole new level.

Unfortunately, my writing "career" has always been a matter of sputtering starts. To be truthful, I've been afraid to write my stories because, what if no one liked them? What if I only have one good story in me? And, I lack discipline.

Currently, I'm trying to change that, working a temp job while I struggle to write. That's why I joined this forum and a few others.

Ok, I should stop now and go plot the demise of a tribe of humans at the hands of Elves.


What a delight this post was to read! You have a lot of talent in storytelling!!

I would love to see more of your work, I'm
certain you have more than one story and that people will like them. If you can write stories and keep this level of playfulness and subtlety, you have a big writing career ahead of you.


And as EmmaSohan was pointing out, it's these little surprises sprinkled in that may not be the bread and butter, but definitely the "sugar and the salt".

 

JJBuchholz

Senior Member
Do you like to surprise your reader and if so, how do you do it?

Yes and no. It depends on the story I'm writing, and the number of plot points/devices that I am employing throughout the story
to make it all work. I prefer a slow reveal in most cases, and a huge climax if there is a lot of action involved. Dialogue also helps
to bring surprise, as the reader will get the reveal/surprise straight from the character's mouth as they see it.

-JJB
 

Taylor

Friends of WF
Yes and no. It depends on the story I'm writing, and the number of plot points/devices that I am employing throughout the story
to make it all work. I prefer a slow reveal in most cases, and a huge climax if there is a lot of action involved. Dialogue also helps
to bring surprise, as the reader will get the reveal/surprise straight from the character's mouth as they see it.

-JJB

See now I think that's a great way to do it. I am a big believer in telling the story surprises with dialogue. I think it's much harder though, which is why a lot authors don't do it enough. You have to make the language believable, but not mundane as many real life conversations are.

When I constructed my plot, I wanted to tell most of the story in dialogue. So it was key to think about the big reveal at the end and who the MC would be taking to about it, so I would make sure I introduced a suitable character for that scene. It took a lot of research and character development. I hope I pull it off! :distress:
 

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