Uh oh! Those rascally lepurchans have taken all the gold from this part of the interstellar web, but from one Irish descendant to the rest of the world, top o'the day to ya!
The last thing you expected to see in The Laire this week was a scary ol' leprechaun, right? But that's entirely the point. If you're not surprised, you will be, as we enter our next memorable topic--the element of surprise.
Aside from great scenes and characters that evoke our emotions, some stories stay in the minds of its audience by throwing them for a loop, an intellectual punch to the face, so to speak. This happens when a story moves along, minding its course, and an event happens that no one expected, usually followed by a stunned, "What the (insert preferred expletive here)!" We can all think of a few excellent examples, like the ending of The Sixth Sense or when Ender learns what he's really been doing in Command School. The storyteller left out a few details while feeding us yummy intrigue along the way. Vader knew perfectly well that he was Anikan Skywalker. What would happen if he freaked out when the Emperor told him that Luke was his offspring? Apparently, I'm not the only one to has dwelt on this thought . . .
So how do you execute an effective surprise? For me, it's a strategy game--I must place several key elements down first. That's why I like games. Keeps my critical-thinking juices flowing. What would that taste like...?
Anyway, these "elements" may include the following:
Goals - If your characters have goals, that gives the reader an idea of where the story is headed. They understand story arcs. You be their guide.
Clues - write an occasional scene that helps build up to the surprise, but be subtle, not obvious. This gives your reader anticipation, or something to look forward to.
Purpose - you must have a reason for your surprise, rather than taking your audience on a trip for the sake of it. Random shock value will make readers feel cheated.
What's my method? In the initial outline, I ponder the surprise element first, how intense it should be ("I am your father" vs. "I'm from the future" Spock), where to put it, and what I must do in the rising action to reach that point. Effective writers are good strategists--they start with a goal, plan how to get there, sneak into the reader's mind, and take it. You really are attacking readers when you surprise them effectively. Be sneaky. Rub your knuckles and think "muahahaha" like the evil genius that you are. Screaming "CHARGE!" (providing too much information) will tip off your readers (bore them) and they will counterattack (close the book).
This is not the rule, just my thoughts on the matter. Surprises don't have to be earth-shattering. It's helpful (and super cool) in high fiction, but sometimes, just finding out if X and Y get together in the end is enough. How you build up to that moment is the real surprise.
Do you like to surprise your audience? What elements do you incorporate? Do you try to surprise yourself?
I'm David, and Monday's comments surprised me!