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  1. porky11

    porky11 New Member

    Mar 31, 2019
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    Theory: Establishing and breaking expectations

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by porky11, Mar 31, 2019.

    I just thought about how to make a story interesting and came up with a simple theory.
    The idea is to create rules and hints, so the reader already expects something to happen, but then let something else happen, which breaks these expectations.

    If the unexpected action is reasonable, the reader might find it more interesting, and the persons doing it seem smart.
    If it's unreasonable, it can be a joke.

    Even if the rule is pretty simple, it's not easy to follow this rule. It's important to establish the expectations before breaking them. And it's not possible to do it the same way multiple times, or even in the same way as other stories, else the reader already expects the previously unexpected. And it gets more difficult when the story gets longer or there exist more stories.

    Delays can also help to break expectations. When the reader doesn't expect it anymore to happen, at least not now, then it's a good time to let it happen.

    When some expectation is broken, it can still be a hope. Fulfilling unexpected hopes is probably the most satisfying way to break expectations, but this can only be achieved, when hopes are not fulfilled normally.

    Do you know of an existing theory about establishing and breaking expectations?
    John Calligan likes this.
  2. Iain Sparrow

    Iain Sparrow Banned Contributor

    Sep 6, 2016
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    I don't think there's any particular theory that your "Establishing and breaking expectations" falls under.

    It simply goes by "plot twists" and "red herrings", and similar devices that we all use.
  3. John Calligan

    John Calligan Contributor Contributor

    Aug 8, 2015
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  4. Alan Aspie

    Alan Aspie Banned Contributor

    Jul 31, 2018
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    Your theory is a part of a theory of art as catharsis.

    Art builds an tension. Then it relieves this tension as an emotionally liberating and purifying process called catharsis.

    You focus in this thread only to expectations. That is only part of different methods of tension building.

    You focus here only to surprise. That is only one form of relieving tension.


    Aristotle did form that theory but it was old even then.


    Vygotsky paid attention to it. Just google with words vygotsky and catharsis.


    Josef Breuer, Ivan Pavlov, B.F. Skinner, Carl Jung and several others... took it or some practical variations of it to psychology.


    Joseph Cambell, Cristopher Vogler, Blake Snyder, John Truby, Jeffrey Allan Schechter, Lisa Cron, William Zinsser, Michael Hauge, Eric Edson and several others have focused to structural and substantial side of that theory via variations of monomyth.


    Sun Tzu, Niccolo Machiavelli, Carl von Clausewitz, Aleksander Suvorov and several other military thinkers have paid a lot attention to that kind of theory in planning actions in politics and in "politics by other means".

    See also "maskirovka".



    In islamic tradition taqqiya, tawriyya, kitman and muruna are very near what you describe.



    So... The answer is yes. There are hundreds of quite similar but more developed and already tested theories like that.
  5. Matt E

    Matt E Ruler of the planet Omicron Persei 8 Contributor

    Sep 7, 2014
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    You have to be careful when violating expectations. Readers want to receive the payoff that they’ve been promised through the hints that have been dropped throughout the story. While it shouldn’t be completely predictable, it should also be in the same hemisphere as what they are expecting, otherwise they may be disappointed. Switching genres is a good example of where this can go wrong: starting out as a fantasy book and drawing in fantasy readers, then making it sci-fi at the end. The fantasy readers will be disappointed that they didn’t get their fantasy payoff, and sci-fi readers won’t get past the first page.

    So the best approach I think is through making promises and fulfilling then in ways that aren’t entirely expected.
    Rosacrvx likes this.

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