Monday, August 27, 2012

Surprising Your Reader

Pamela Redmond Satran recently wrote an article for September issue of The Writer entitled "How to Take Your Fiction to the Next Level". (A very good article, I recommend reading it.)

One part of the article stood out to me: a section titled, "Surprise them, and then surprise them again." Here are the key points Satran covered:

  • Use more twists and turns. When her editor asked for this and Pamela pointed out the big finale of her book, the editor said, "Yeah, that's great, but you need five or 10 more of those." They don't all have to floor the readers, just surprise them.
  • Surprises come in a range of flavors. Characters can do unexpected things, someone can die, "a storm can hit and cancel the Christmas dinner." Don't hesitate to think outside the box.
  • Make the surprise plausible. So long as the surprise feels integral with the story instead of the author pulling something out of a bag of tricks, it will work.


  1. Thank you for this. I've been thinking something is missing in my MS and I think I need more surprise.

  2. I'm all for twists in a story, but I think they are overrated. A good story doesn't always need earth shattering things to be revealed to make it good. I actually think it harms writers and readers to stress the importance of twists. It almost cheapens a story to the point that all people care about is the shock value, instead of intrinsic value--which comes from a tale being told expertly.

    I'm thinking of Dan Brown as a bad example. Sure, his stories are fun and exciting to read. But what do they have to offer after a first read? All of his plots depend on twists. Once you know them, there's nothing left to keep readers interested (at least not in my opinion.) Also, though, Brown is an example of how successful tricky twists can be. He did make something like a bazillion big ones off of The Da Vinci Code, after all. Suppose it comes down to taste.

    I think a novel full of twists is like bubble gum. It's fun, it's flavorful, but it doesn't last long. For me, I work on captivating readers, rather than surprising them.

    1. I like your Dan Brown analogy. His novel was chock full of twists, but honestly, I started to feel like I was getting whiplash by the time I was halfway through.