Think back to your favorite book, TV show, movie, short story–any form of writing. What made it so memorable? Could you predict the plot turns, the characters, and the ending?
Or, did the writing surprise you?
It’s hard to surprise a writer who knows the craft of storytelling. So if your jaw dropped, the story is that good.
Now back to your writing. Here’s why you should know how to write surprise for your stories:
Make Your Story Unforgettable
It only takes one vivid story moment with a really good twist to stick with your readers for a lifetime. These surprising moments bring value to the reader’s experience and their investment in your story. Readers will also replay the entire story in their heads to find where the clues to your surprise were first revealed.
Get Your Readers Talking
You’ve witnessed it in the break room and in conversation circles–people talking about surprising twists in TV shows, movies, and books. Word of mouth, especially from trusted friends and family members, is the best form of marketing, so get your readers talking about your story.
So it’s pretty important to know how to write surprise. But how do you go about creating that shocking moment?
Plan, Plan, Plan
You can’t create a surprising twist out of thin air. Your readers will go back in the story to figure out how the surprise works, so plan ahead. How? To write surprise, know your story backwards and forwards. Try outlining your story backwards from the surprising moment to the beginning of the story. If your idea for writing surprise comes in the middle of the draft, go back to earlier pages and find perfect moments to set up the surprise.
Deviate from the Norm
Surprise occurs when a story strays from the expected pattern. Look at retold versions of old stories to learn how to write surprise. These refreshed tales still work today because the writer adds a startling twist. So look at your story honestly. Where is your story predictable? Where can you complicate the plot? What choices can a character make so that the character struggles more? What subtle, surprising character traits will lead to an eye-popping surprise?
What are the rules of your story’s universe? Does it follow reality or does it have its own universe rules as in fantasy and science fiction? Anything can be believable as long as there are facts supporting it, but how to write surprise means staying in line with your story’s reality. And that goes for the reality of your setting, your characters’ motivations, your characters’ personalities–all story elements.
Use the Surprise Once
Predictability in your surprises is just as damaging to your writing. Readers won’t be surprised if you reuse tactics over and over again. Keep your writing fresh and find new ways to surprise readers in your other stories. The surprise should be true to your story, so don’t duplicate your surprise because it worked before.
Keep your surprises to a minimum if you want maximum impact. Looking for ways to surprise opens up opportunities for you to explore your characters, setting, and plot more thoroughly. Now that you know how to write surprise, go back to your favorite stories and see what methods the writers used to evoke surprise.