June 5, 2012

Story Strengths: Surprise

During April's Blogging from A to Z Challenge, I wrote a post about Story Strengths with an S theme: Sarcasm, Sweet, Saucy/Sexy, Sincerity, Secrets, Silly, Sadness.

Thanks to a comment by Linda Luke, I realized I forgot one of my favorite S story elements. Surprise. Nothing will irritate me more than a well-written book with interesting characters that is overly predictable.

Although I will read all genres and authors, I shy away from romance novels. Too often, they follow the same formula: woman is immediately attracted to man, woman falls in love in 20 pages (if that!), man gives into heat but fears love, a misunderstanding occurs, man realizes he does love woman, man and woman ride off into the sunset.

But worse than formula is a surprise gone wrong. Case in point: Jodi Picoult's My Sister's Keeper. She had an interesting story, a child conceived as a bone marrow match for her sick older sister, but the surprise ending ruined the entire book for me. I thought the author took on a very sensitive and controversial topic, but copped out of taking a side with a surprise ending that didn't make sense or add anything to the story.

My favorite way to incorporate surprise is little by little, like small bursts of flavor in a delicious cake instead of a dill pickle in the middle of my cupcake. Too much and too wrong.

Another favorite: a book I don't think I'll like but end up loving. Come to think of it, that's the best kind of reading surprise.

Do you like the element of surprise when you read? As a writer, do you feel pressure to put something in your novel the reader's not expecting?


Melissa said...

I agree with you. I don't mind some surprises, but they'd better be good ones. And I don't mind similarities in romances--I mean we know how they're gonna end--as long as the story is realistic, the characters are likeable, and the writing draws me in and stirs my emotions.
(No. I don't like it when the leads fall for each other too fast.) Great post. :)

J E Fritz said...

I don't like surprises for the sake of surprises, or one that's so easy to guess that it's not a surprise at all (like the typical romance plot you described).

As for my own writing, I'll try to keep a few things from the read, but only if it's important to keep it secret. Nothing that's a last minute save or cop out.

Jaleh D said...

Surprise when well used makes for some awesome reading. The surprise has to make sense even if I didn't see it coming.

Jo Michaels said...

I dislike predictable books. They drive me over the edge. If I am shocked by an unusual twist, so much the better. But, I agree with you, surprises are not always the answer. I ended Yassa in a way that may surprise the reader. I struggled with it for weeks. :)

I also do not like books where the man is unsure. Period. Make up your mind, already. LOL!

Tia Bach said...

Melissa, I agree. Surprise for the sake of surprise is a cheap gimmick.

JE Fritz, I like holding back a few things, too. Can't give it all away too soon!

Jaleh, Making sense is SO important.

Jo, Unsure men. Why how could that be? ;-) I don't like an unsure character that spends an entire book flip-flopping only to make a less than dramatic decision.