Daily Archives: July 18, 2011

The Element of Surprise: popping beetles and plot twists

Our home has been invaded.  With four kids (and their friends), two dogs and a handful of overnight guests, our door is opened more often than a drive-thru window at Mickey D’s. 

This morning a lone lightning bug reconned through the kitchen in search of a way out.  Yesterday, I scooped up a very cute spider and transported him to the deck where the mosquito population explodes at dusk.  I’ve also noticed a new kind of beetle.  It’s small and black and really kind of unassuming.  At least until I tried to pick it up.

As soon as my fingers/paper/twig appeared in front of it, this tiny creature sucked its legs underneath it.  After about three seconds, it popped into the air with an audible click.  Not that it’s ready for the Olympics, but my popping beetle has quite the vertical.  It cleared a good two inches.

The first time I tried to save one, his behavior made me jump–just slightly higher than he–and curse–a very mild expletive of shock, followed by delight. 

This element of surprise is crucial in all writing.  I repeat–ALL writing.

Surprise isn’t just for mystery novels.  Every piece of fiction should have some element of surprise or it’s not worth reading.  At least in my humble opinion.  The reason is thus: if I already know the ending, there is no point in reading.  If I will not be shocked, surprised and delighted along the way, I simply cannot justify the time it takes to read a story from beginning to end. 

Instead, I want to be drawn to a plot/sub plot like I was to the beetle.  I want to put my nose right up next to it, feeling like I have the upper hand and am in complete control, only to ooh and aaah (or mildly curse) when the unexpected happens. 

I like to shout, “No, NO, Noooo!” as characters fall victim to imaginative plot twists.  I revel in the tightening of my gut or the sudden urge to laugh or cry that accompanies a scene gone wrong–or unexpectedly right.  I hope to be blind-sided by delights and disappointments and love more than anything when I am.

How about you?  As a reader, do you like formulaic books where the outcome is suspected in chapter one and confirmed by the end of the novel?  Or, do you like to read a story that takes you through a series of twists and turns, only to take your breath away with an, “Oh my God, I can’t believe that just happened!” ending?

As a writer, how do you surprise your readers?  And more importantly, how do you keep your plot twists relevant and logical? 

Curious minds want to know!