Nov 30, 2011

Preventing Predictability

When I first started my WIP I kind of had an idea but didn't really know where it was going.  I had the general idea, but in my quest to figure out how to get it all down on paper, I realized I was eliminating any chance of a surprise, twist, unexpected event or even enjoyment.  I was telling my reader all the stuff that since has been switched to be surprises, mysteries and puzzles that the reader and the MC get to try to figure out together. 

That, I think, is one of the hardest things about being a writer - preventing the predictable.  Sure, to some extent, there is some.   Chick flicks usually end with the guy and the girl having that great kiss, hinting at happily ever after.  Most action flicks have the good guy winning eventually.  Granted, the cost may be VERY steep, but he usually wins. 

What I'm talking about here is that point in a book where, even though you are reading silently, you verbally whisper, mumble, shout WHAT?!? and flip back through the pages to see if you really did read that right (Hunger Games, A Thousand Splendid Suns, The Mysterious Benedict Society, Harry Potter).  It is those moments that keep the readers going, keep them wondering what is happening, keep them engaged. 

I attended a conference for students once where the funny and brilliant Todd Petersen told the students that the inability to keep your reader guessing, in suspense, in the dark is the equivalent of giving them a crossword puzzle already filled out.  It's not fun. 

Readers want to be kept a little in the dark, to try to figure out what is going on, where the twist could come from.  Readers want to be challenged, at all levels, even just a bit.

How do you prevent predictability?  Without giving away spoilers, what books have shocked you with their twists, either about who a character really is, where the story is going, motivation, etc.


Cassie Mae said...

I love keeping my mc on his toes. People popping out of nowhere to kill him, him rescuing the girl only to have her kidnapped again ten minutes later, and then people's backstories alone (while explaining a lot) when they're revealed, he almost craps himself.

I guess when you keep your mc surprised, you keep your reader surprised. :)

David P. King said...

The biggest thing for me is to stay on top of current stories and try not to repeat what they've done, and, in some case, write multiple scenes to see which direction the story is headed. Kinda like your own choose your own adventure book. :)

Coleen Patrick said...

The last big twist I actually didn't like. It was a great story until the very last chapter when a main character died suddenly--it felt so unnecessary. Anyway, I love when a traditional story is set in a very untraditional setting or with quirky characters. I like when there's an unusual pairing.

KarenG said...

Figuring out the plot twists is part of the fun. I like that comparison to a crossword puzzle, makes sense! I'm going to remember that one.

Cortney said...

Twists are definitely fun. I love when a story I'm into takes an unexpected turn, and I try to do that with my books, but I always worry that things will be too predictable at the same time. I'm with KarenG, I like the comparison to a crossword puzzle!

Susanna Leonard Hill said...

The quest for unpredictability is one of my biggest problems in novel-writing. I know how important it is, but it's hard to do! I had such a moment as you describe last week when I was reading Across The Universe by Beth Revis. But I won't say what it was for fear of spoiling :)

Kim Van Sickler said...

One of my favorite stories with a rollicking twist at the end is Roald Dahl's "Man from the South." That's the one where a little Spaniard in a white suit and Panama hat challenges the MC to a bet. If the boy can light his lighter ten times in a row he can have the man's Cadillac. If the boy can't, the man will cut off the pinkie on his left hand. Shivery delightful!