Twists and Surprises
Well, the book is coming along, and I’m anticipating finishing the first draft long before my self-imposed deadline. Yeah, it’s as much a shock to me as to anyone else, trust me. But for some reason, the act of setting myself a public deadline (and opening myself up to judgment should I fail to meet it) seems to have lit an even bigger fire under me. I expect this tactic wouldn’t keep working if I used it all the time, but clearly it’s a good tool to pull out on special occasions.
Just a quick update on that, for those keeping track. Mostly I have questions for you! And these are for writers and readers alike, because I think sometimes we as writers tend to get our perceptions of books muddled by the fact that we’re so interested in studying craft. We start looking for the complex answers when sometimes it’s the simple ones, the ones we’d have picked if we weren’t so obsessive, that are the most helpful.
So what I want to hear from you about is the subject of plot twists, secrets, shockers, and tricks. I’m getting to the end of my own book, and there are a few twists and reveals that (if I’ve done it correctly) should come as a surprise to the reader. I think, though, that twists are really hard to write. Something you’ll see a lot of in magazine’s requirements for short story submissions is that they don’t want stories with trick endings or big twists. I think this is because they’re often done so poorly, with a lot of handwaving and blatant prose that is the equivalent of the author popping out of a corner with a big sign saying “GOTCHA!” You want to be thrilled and excited and shocked–not prompted to roll your eyes and groan, like you’ve just been handed a bad pun.
One of the things I learned at the Odyssey Workshop, which falls under the category of Things I Knew Instinctively But Couldn’t Articulate, was that endings should be surprising but inevitable. Meaning, the ending should not be easily predicted through the book, and still surprise the reader, but in hindsight the reader should be able to look back and see that all the clues were there, making the ending inevitable. It’s like a good murder mystery–you don’t really want to get there long before the detective does, but you don’t want to feel like the solution came out of nowhere.
Think back over the books you’ve read, either recently or in the long distant past, that had twists in them–which ones worked? Which ones didn’t? (Try to avoid major spoilers, just in case they’re books that other people haven’t read and might some day!) Did you feel betrayed by the author, or did you get that rush of “Oh my god, this is the BEST THING EVER!” that a good twist can give you? And why?