Monday, June 09, 2008

Sneaky Bastards

Who’s a sneaky bastard? Us writers. One of the most satisfying things to do to your readers is surprise them while still giving them the story ending that feels right. And surprises are built of sneakiness, because in order for the surprise to seem believable, it needs to be foreshadowed without the audience figuring out what’s coming.

To build a good surprise--the protagonist wiggles her way out of a seemingly impossible dilemma--I like to try to think up something involving non-linear cleverness, something that works but isn’t an obvious solution.

Example: In Gone With the Wind, Scarlett O’Hara pulls down the curtains and gets herself a new dress to impress/fool Rhett with.

To build a nasty surprise, I try to engage in some paranoid fantasies. What’s the nastiest truth that can underlie what appears to be true?

Example: What if Heidi and Spencer only trash-talk Lauren Conrad to market Lauren’s name? After all, the nastier their comment, the more widely it will be reported, and while the public easily ignores advertising campaigns, everyone pays attention to a good cat-fight.

Building surprises is one of the things I find most fun about constructing a plot--what’s the most diabolical shocker I can create that is completely believable when viewed with hindsight? Terry Pratchett said that writing is the most fun anyone can have alone, and when I find myself chortling over my own (hopefully successful) literary sneakiness, I agree with him.


What’s your favourite bit of writer-perpetrated sneakiness? Please feel free to mention either your own or another writer’s. I'd love to hear about the best jaw-dropper you’ve ever encountered, or created, in a story.

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