Daily Writers Challenge: How To Surprise Your Reader

When was the last time you found yourself knowing what was going to happen in a TV show, a movie, or sadly, in a book?

My guess is that if you are reading popular fiction, it happened the last time you read a book.

I’m in a quandary about this.  While it is true, the devil is in the details, while the characters and settings might be a bit mixed, for the most part a lot of popular writing is formulaic.  Is this good?  Is it good that we can guess what will happen?  Or is it a bit boring and disappointing when within a few pages of a book we can “see” how it must end… and usually be right?

Granted, experience reading and writing does much for that… granted, too, not every book is totally predictable.

What do we know about formulas?  Try this: 

Image: readersandwritersparadise.com

A group start out on a journey/quest to accomplish X.  The group consists of a male leader, one or two other males—one of whom is usually whiney and has less than perfect habits, the other is a stalwart, good friend who can be counted on.  In the group, also, is a female with whom the leader cannot get along.  She is strident, opinionated, and better at certain skills than the leader.  Along the way, one of the two male companions will turn out to be on the side of the bad guy, or a loose cannon, and will either turn on the group, or go off in a huff.
There is also an amazingly bad guy the gender of whom determines a lot about the ending of the story.  If the baddie is a male, one of two things will happen, he will “get his”.  That is to say he will be defeated, either by brave actions of the leader, or hoist with his own petard, OR he will fall in love with the female of the group, and end up giving his life for her.  This can also happen if the baddie is a female, but more likely she will “get away” to plot anew.

Oh, and of course, the leader of the group gets the girl.

One of the best inventions of the 21st century is the DVR, or TiVo device.  Why?  Because we play recorded shows at odd times, and I can no longer look at the clock on the wall to say what will happen next in the story.

Well and good.  But here’s the deal… and the challenge.  In a single paragraph, or a short outline, put together a story arc which breaks the mold.  Now, now… I know what you’re thinking.  Wait a minute, chief!  If I do that, and write it in comments, someone will steal my brilliant idea.  Hrummmph.  We’ll talk about that in detail down the line.  But, for now, think on this: if any one of your ideas is so good that the loss of it would crumple you as a writer, you are in the wrong business.  All ideas seem to be stolen.  Today’s task isn’t so much taking a shot at being wildly and vividly creative, but one of borrowing from the library and rearranging the books.

Your thoughts?

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One response to “Daily Writers Challenge: How To Surprise Your Reader

  1. I had thought for the first draft to go beyond the Aristotelian Poetics mold you described above. Instead I would ‘write’ the story so that the climax was in the middle, and each part reflected the other, from the middle going out to the beginning and end. The idea came from Indian music, which is structured in this way. I soon found though that it really was Aristotelian, in the final analysis, with the climax moved up a bit. As far as structure is concerned, I think it would be very difficult to come up with ‘another one’. Unless there was no ‘structure’ at all, but I wonder that maybe it is impossible to ‘escape’ structure. It seems to be ’embedded’. (Just my thoughts)

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