Tuesday, April 24, 2012

U is for Unexpected

There is a whole lot of advice out there on how to plot. One of the simplest guidelines is to never make anything easy on your characters. If things are going well, then the chances that the reader might be bored are pretty high. This advice has been extremely helpful for me because I have a tendency to want to protect my darling characters, let them bask in their success for a bit too long, and also to have them quickly/easily go through necessary steps to get to the next plot point. Nothing should be quick and easy though - it's either a missed opportunity to make the character's life just a bit more difficult (and thereby raise the stakes, show character growth, etc.) or it's something that needs to be cut.

At first, I took this advice for face-value and had my characters always take the rockier road or make the more difficult choice. But then, I realized that everything they did was totally predictable. The reader basically knew from the get-go that these characters were always going to run into the worst possible situation. And when a story is predictable, it can be boring. So there I was, back at potentially bored readers.

That was when I realized that putting my characters into tough situations wasn't enough. I needed to make sure that the tough situations were the result of something unexpected. And even better if I could make the reader think they knew where the story was headed, think they could anticipate the next plot twist, and then rip the rug right out from under their feet! That might not sound that difficult, but in reality, I can be far less clever than I think I am. With one of my CPs, we critiqued one chapter at a time and wrote down our predictions for the next chapters. And I couldn't believe she knew (or didn't know, in some cases) where my story was headed.

What about you? How do you make sure your MS doesn't become too predictable? Do you have an tips or tricks for creating unexpected plot twists?

14 comments:

  1. What a great idea, to have your cp predict where your story is going - I'm totally stealing that!

    Like you said, it's much easier said than done!

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    1. Steal away :) It's extremely enlightening! (and sometimes a bit mind-boggling, haha).

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  2. I like the idea of playing the prediction game with a CP to determine how predictable or unpredictable your story is.

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    1. :) I'm so glad I shared that - I think it's a great way to gauge reader response and make sure it's where you want it!

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  3. This is a weakness of mine, so I don't have advice for you. But thanks for reminding us that we need tension in our plot and characters! Just stopping by from the Challenge...
    Http://4ambassadorsofchrist.blogspot.com

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  4. Great post and great idea for the CP prediction thing! Sometimes my beta swap partners and I will do that anyway, but not formally and I really like the idea of doing it formally for each chapter.

    I'm not sure I'm very good at the unexpected thing either ... however one thing I do intentionally do is remember that the bad guy (or faceless evil) is smart too. The protags aren't going to just find things straightforward and out in the open. So I try to think about what the baddie might do to cover their tracks and thereby mislead the MC.

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    1. That's definitely a good thing to think about - The bad guy has his or her motivations and backstory too and even if those things aren't completely revealed to the reader, it's important for the author to have it all worked out so they can understand what the bad guy would do and why.

      Nice plan to avoid one dimensional baddies! :D

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  5. I create plot development by hinting at future events early in the story, so when the reader gets to the twists, they don't seem to come out of left field, but are still surprised.

    Not to mention that if the reader is picking up on the hints, they're anxious to see conflict form into something and get that satisfied feeling when it does happen.

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    1. Oh yeah, I definitely weave in hints that they might not notice at the time, but will make sense later when the twist comes. The only problem is, sometimes those hints are more obvious than I realized and this is where the CPs telling me what they think will happen next realllyy helps :)

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  6. I agree with a few others--I LOVE the idea of having someone predict what will happen next! That's definitely great for a plotter like me. :)

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  7. Good suggestions here for how to plot a book. I'm always far too easy on my characters. I know I shouldn't be--that's the worst part. I'll try harder. Hey, maybe the reader will get used to everything going smoothly and the twist will come as a shock. Good strategy.

    http://francene-wordstitcher.blogspot.com/

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