Let’s talk about perfect stories, shall we? They all have the same essential elements: characters, setting, plot, conflict, and resolution. When you look at it that way, all stories seem the same. There are millions of stories out there, so it’s easy for us to recognize similar sources of inspiration being recycled over and over again.
But there’s something special in a good story. The elements may be the same, but a good story finds a way to surprise us. Maybe the author serves us with a twist we definitely did not expect.
So how do we add elements of the unexpected to our own stories?
Know What Readers Expect
First, know what your target audience is used to. Goodreads is a good source of such information.
- Go through the most popular books and stories from your genre. Read the books. Read the comments and reviews. What surprised the readers? What unexpected elements got their attention? What were their expectations from the books they read?
- No, you won’t copy the good things. We don’t have to tell you that. You’re an author and you must always be unique. This research, however, will still serve an important purpose: to find out what your audience wants.
- Once you realize what the readers expect, you can start thinking of ways to surprise them.
Serve an Unexpected Twist
Getting into the minds of your readers was the first step. Then comes the hard work. You have to deliver the unexpected, special element that will leave them in awe.
Develop Your Characters
Develop complex characters with realistic depth. No one is absolutely good or absolutely bad. When you develop characters with flawed morals, you can lead them toward unexpected actions and still make them look real.
Foreshadowing is a Powerful Tool
Foreshadowing is a literary device that gives readers a hint of what is to come. Good foreshadowing plants a seed in the reader’s mind. As a writer, you can use foreshadowing to help build suspense.
Talk it Through
In the middle of writing your novel, you’re entirely consumed by the developing story and its characters, which makes it hard for you to understand what your readers expect, or if your plot twist makes sense. Talk to someone you trust. Brainstorm with another writer. Crafting a satisfying yet unexpected twist is a challenge, so test out your idea with an early reader or a critique partner.
Make Sure the Unexpected Makes Sense
You can’t write something unexpected just because your readers expect the unexpected. Your characters must have realistic motivations to do what they do, even when the outcome is harsh or they face long-term consequences because of those actions.
The reader must recognize those motivations and see where this character’s actions are coming from. If you take The Brothers Karamazov as an example, you can see the motivations between the actions of each character. The resolution is completely unexpected, but you end up thinking: “Yeah; I should’ve guessed this!” That’s what the real mastery of writing is all about.
Dealing with elements of the unexpected will be a turning point in your career as a writer. Some writers get this from the very first attempt, and others have to try harder. The good news is we can get there if we put in the hard work good writing demands.