Kou-Kou by Georgios Iakovidis
I've been thinking about surprise lately. Surprise is a key, rarely-talked-about element of fiction.
By now, we've probably all heard about how the book Save the Cat is the basis for many Hollywood blockbusters. No surprise, if you've heard about it in the past. And while a lot of those movies follow the plot beats down to the page number, some work better than others. This is evident in both the sales and the critical reviews.
So why do some work better?
Well, there's a lot of discussion there, but I'm thinking specifically about surprise today. In this context, I mean that the writer does something the reader never expected. A good writer can surprise in dialogue, at which I think Joss Whedon often excels. The plot can surprise. The characters can surprise. And the narration can surprise. Really, anything can surprise the reader.
Surprise isn't merely important; it's critical. Imagine a well-written story with interesting characters and a strong, logical plot. It stays on the road. I walks the well-worn path. You read it, and it is exactly what you expect. While it's decient, the story never once does anything to surprise you, to make you smile or lift your eyebrows. Now, we won't call this story bad, but imagine the difference if every page does something you never expected. I'd be excited to turn the page and see what happens next. Even a less-than-spectacular story would keep me turning pages if this were the case.
How to surprise your reader? Tough question. That's where creativity becomes important. Sometimes, I think out what seems most obvious, then next obvious, and so on until I run out of ideas and choose something further down on the list. Other times, while writing, I make a note. Do something better here. My mind can work the problem over as I go about my day. Usually, when I come back to it later, I've come up with a few ideas. If nothing else works, there's no harm in talking to friends and other writers.
Maybe that works. But that's the thing about surprise--there's no formula.
Writer of speculative fiction. Current work in progress is an untitled dark fantasy novella.