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!

6 responses to “The Element of Surprise: popping beetles and plot twists

  1. Definitely super-important! Whether I pull it off, of course, is another matter. My sister is really good at predicting/guessing what’s going to happen, so my ultimate goal is to surprise her at least a couple of times per ms.

    Your question about keeping twists relevant and logical is a good one, too. I hate it when a twist comes completely out of nowhere with no foundation. It makes me feel cheated. On the other end, I hate it when something that’s presented as The Big Twist is something I figured out more than 100 pages earlier.

    Great post! 🙂

    • Oooh, I’m right there with you, throwing ditto marks around your comment!

      Like you, I worry about my execution of appropriate, logical and satisfying surprise. Funny how it’s easy to know what to do, but getting it done is a completely different story.

      Thanks for the great perspective on The Big Twist. It’s something I need to keep in mind as I write.

  2. Without a doubt, I love surprise. If I can determine what the ending is going to be early in a book the likelihood that I will finish it is small. It will get set down, slowly forgotten and eventually shuffled onto a shelf to make room for something better.

    Every scene should end with a disaster of some type except the final one. Every one of those disasters should shift the plot in an unexpected way while leading the reader to a logical conclusion. When done correctly, the reader should reach the end without a clue of how the situation will resolve yet once they reach that resolution should say: “Of course, it was there all along!” To me, at least, these are the best stories.

    • That’s exactly how I feel. It is one of the reasons my brain latches onto little details. If I read about scuffed, red tennis shoes, I file it away because it must be integral to the outcome of the plot. I adore when writers masterfully sprinkle little clues like this around in seeminly unpretentious ways, only to realize they were part of the great, “Aha” at the end!

      But if the clues are obvious and the story trite and formulaic, I become very disappointed at the end and generally don’t read another book by the same author.

  3. Well Cat, I agree with most all of your points as a writer. I figured I would. I have an eye for top of the line trend setter talent. I knew when I first saw your face and comments popping up everywhere on Agent Query site, you were an exceptional writer and unique character in Sellar Cool ways.

    Now, just reading and checking out your website, it’s easy to see your personality itself is much like the top seller, adorably cute, highly inquisitive, smart characters written about for a kids or YA’s. Its most likely why your work is so good, ha, ha, duh right lol. I understand your childlike highly passionate inspirational nature. Your passion for writing weaves its happy dance with every word, flowing from you like a glorious cascading waterfall of ever changing spiritual fluid beauty.

    True artistic beauty is a by product to true noble character. It is nice to see someone do so much to offer help to others. When I came across the Agent/Query site I saw it as a Meca from heaven lol. The site is truely a blessing to true writers. You immediately stood out to me, and most likely to many others. Just know being an inspiration to those of top talent you are leaving a legacy for others follow in your footsteps, wanting to be like you on their journey.

    I am almost ready to go forth with the glorious journey of doing Queries to put my first children’s book on the market. I have tons of questions of course. I think I would respect your opinions and views to my work more than most.
    Respectfully JW Roberts

    • Thanks, JW. I’m glad you’ve stopped by.

      Feel free to shoot me an email or an AQ PM with questions and I’ll help you out in any way I can!


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