1. Ion
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    Ion Senior Member

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    Being Unexpected

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Ion, Mar 17, 2011.

    I was inspired recently to do the unexpected in storytelling.

    When you watch a romantic comedy, you know the male and female lead will end up together. When you watch an action movie, you can bet the bad guy is going down in the end. When you read a high fantasy story, you can bet your peasant kid is going to become the next closest thing to a god.

    What I'm talking about isn't necessarily as cliched or overarching as these examples. I mean making your story unpredictable--but not in a bad way.

    When you see something you've seen before, you naturally predict where it's going. I don't want to be random for the sake of being random, but it is possible through good storytelling to make your audience just as unsure of the outcome as your main character. Or even less sure, if your MC is overconfident.

    One of the things I've been experimenting with is taking out the 'correct' resolution to the situation at hand. Whatever the character does, it's not going to turn out very well.

    The second thing I've been doing is is not shying away from punishing characters for their mistakes. Whether its in the reactions of other characters, or if the consequences just come up to screw with them later on, messing up changes the story.

    How do you guys surprise your readers? Any ideas for making the next step difficult to discern (in a way that builds anticipation, not frustration), but sensible in hindsight?
     
  2. Faust
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    Faust Contributing Member Supporter

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    If well played, twists can be delicious.

    By way of example, if your character is going on a quest to a mountain that's a far way away, you can have the trip there be rather uneventful, most would expect the trip there to perilous. Or, you can have the trip perilous and the mountain serene, or vice-versa. It's all about getting some feedback from a few friends and family and then deciding to take it a slightly different direction. Personally, I enjoy stories more when the good guys don't when all the time, it makes them more human.
     
  3. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Well, one issue here is with letting down the reader's expectation.

    For example, if you've got a romance novel and Character A is expected to get with Character B, you could make a twist where Character A ends up with Character C, while Character B gets with Character D or ends up alone or, better yet, in an unreqruited love triangle situation to stir up more tension. However, as a reader, I'd be pissed if no one ended up getting together at all in this novel.

    I see where you're coming from with the fantasy thing - but to be honest, if there was a story like LOTR where the "Mount Doom" was peaceful and flowery, I wouldn't be too happy with that either....

    I mean don't get me wrong, twists are great and it's wonderful if you can find a way to break the cliches. But don't do it in a "sorry, nothing here after all" kind of way.
     
  4. Ion
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    Ion Senior Member

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    I don't mean that the reader is expecting one thing and you give them another. I mean the reader can't narrow down what to expect in the first place, and is riveted to the page to see what's going to go down.
     
  5. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    The twists and turns in my plot come through lack of planning and constant need to give them context - there is an event that I foreshadow in my first two chapters of my first book, not one person is prepared for it in the third.

    Basically I don't know what is going to happen yet but it has to make sense in the context it is in, so the reader ain't going to know either yet. The predicatability I create is in the characters - they then take the reader on a journey with them.
     
  6. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    Agree with this. I know what's *meant* to happen so I just plan around it. Generally it makes my plotting quite vague as, like Elg, I let the characters decide a lot of things for me. Everything ends up coming together with logic, but it doesn't always follow conventions because I didn't start out following conventions.

    Or, in the first draft I did, almost deliberately, and then having followed the most obvious choice for the story, I go through and knock it off the rails along the way.

    Having atypical characters helps when letting them decide what to do. My story where everyone was deliberately cliché followed quite typical routes, but when I write much more complicated characters the story goes all over the place. Building up to my main character doing some awful things not even to win at the end, at least in terms of the grand plot. Just a random awful thing he decides to do, and shrugs it off like, "well, I suffered all this stuff so far. I don't see why I shouldn't make my own happy ending." because I've left nothing else *for* him to have.
     
  7. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    On side of this is doing what feels natural and obvious to you. Because your perspective will feel unique and fresh to someone else. It can take some time so explore whats is unique about how you experience and think about the world, but it is worth it if you find that fine balance where you can do what is obvious to yourself that feels fresh for other people.

    Think of stand up comedians. A stand up comedian feels fresh, unique and surprising when they found and manage to bring out their own perspective and reactions.
    George Carling isn't funny, unpredictable and unique because he strives to be so, but because he brings out his own reactions to the world. He stating what feels obvious to him. I guess the same thing is true for the friends you got that have a great sense of humor. They are not trying to find something unexpected, they are sharing their own obvious perspective and natural reactions with others.
     
  8. Manav
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    Manav Contributing Member

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    First of all, readers don't necessarily need twists to be riveted to the pages. If you make the readers care enough for the char they will still be riveted even when they can more or less predict the story's ending. But I know what you are trying to say, you want to pleasantly surprise the readers with unexpected twists and turns and may be even suspense, and make them want to read more. That is fine, but if not done well chances are that you'll end up being seem as resorting to gimmickry. One chapter the reader is made to believe a char died, only to find that he is alive in the next chapter without it much affecting the main plot/storyline/character... I'll first vomit on the book and then burn it! In short, it could backfire. Like any other plot element, twists should be there for a very good reason. I like it when a twist profoundly changes a character (like in the above example, if a go-getter billionaire met with an accident and is declared death in one chapter, and in the next chapter he wakes up in a morgue and this deeply changes him), and I like twists at the end of the story if they help make better sense of the story in some way (may be even in a weird way). So, unexpected things/twist just for the sake of it is, imho, not a good idea.

    As for pleasantly surprising the readers, there are other ways. Inventive use of words is one. Original similes and metaphors is another. Creating unusual and slightly eccentric char is also another....
     
  9. Ion
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    Ion Senior Member

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    Again, I'm not talking about 'twists'. I'm not talking about fooling the reader. I'm just saying that the reader doesn't know what to expect.

    I agree with this. I never consciously considered it in like this before.
     
  10. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    To me that is a twist when a plot takes an unexpected turn.
     
  11. Yoshiko
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    Yoshiko Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is something that interests me too. As a reader you feel like you can predict the ending of a novel, and often your prediction does come true, but I find the books that stick out as my favourites are the ones where the author surprised me in some way, shape or form.

    From October to December, while the NaNo community was at it's peak in activity, I asked people who showed interest in my work how they thought the series would end. Most people went for the two most obvious outcomes, with some people suggesting ideas I hadn't even thought of. However, no one has come to the right conclusion yet simply because they've all made the wrong assumption that A must end up with either B or C.
     
  12. KillianRussell
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    KillianRussell Contributing Member

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    In so far as getting a book deal, romance is the only genre with a 'happily ever after ' pre-requisite. In fact the unexpected is expected in today's general fiction, trite predictable submissons end up in the thanks but no thanks pile. In so far as letting readers down ,who cares , we write great characters and build dramatic tension the audience becomes hooked like lab rats letting the us spin the wheel in the cage wildly.
     

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