Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Predictability Creates Opportunities

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books for teens in lots of weird genres like, fantasy (Blood of Kings trilogy), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

In some genres, formula is important. This is the case most often in romance novels. But even with a formula in place, that doesn't mean you can't keep your reader on their toes.

I like to try and second guess what the reader is expecting, then see if I can surprise them. Take, for example, a situation that happens early on in my novel By Darkness Hid. *SPOILER ALERT!* My main character, Achan, is in love with a girl named Gren. They both know two things. 1) Gren's dad has been planning to marry her off for years, and 2) Achan is too far below her social class to be the guy her father will choose.

Achan is devastated when her father finally announces who Gren is betrothed to marry. And he broods about this and plots ways of whisking her away in secret. The reader is worried, but most are assuming this will all work out somehow.


They expect that Achan will rescue Gren from a loveless marriage. Or maybe they were waiting for me to have him run away with her, or to at least help her escape. So I tried to think of something different. Something totally unexpected. In fact, I did the worst possible thing. I put her in even more trouble! I won't say what, exactly. But something happens to Gren that shocks everyone. And only Achan can save her. Even if it means giving her up forever!

*weeps*

This decision worked very well in two ways. First, it got rid of Gren. I had plans for this book that didn't really include her. But Achan loved her, and I needed to be clever about getting him away from her. Second, what Achan did was an excellent "Save the Cat" moment. This means he did something risky--put himself in danger--to help Gren, which showed his heroic qualities. And the reader loved him for his selfless choice.



When you're writing your first draft or even when you're going back to edit, look for places where the predictable happens. Can you do something different instead? Something that will keep your readers guessing and give your characters opportunities to show what kind of people they are?

I once wrote a blog post on cliches in your story. Click here to read that post and get some tips on how to avoid cliche plots. Is there a scene in your current work in progress that could use a surprise twist? Share in the comments and let's help each other come up with some fresh ideas that our readers won't see coming.

23 comments:

  1. I really like By Darkness Hid! My little ten year old brother adores it so much, it is now one of the novels that inspires him to write. He recommends it to all of his friends. I definitely was not expecting the relationship to turn out the way it did with Achan and Gren, in By Darkness Hid.

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    1. Aww! Tell your little brother I say, "Hi!" :-)

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  2. I so want to read By Darkness Hid now ...

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  3. Aah, Gren feels!!! *sobs* I liked her, but in the end I ended up 'shipping' her more with Bran than with Achan... *shrugs* But then you did you-know-what to Bran. *sobs more* Anyways, hm... not that I know of. But once I start the editing process, (which will probably start sometime next week or so...I'm chapters away from finishing my first draft) I'll probably find many :p

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    1. Ha ha, Emily. I'm starting to feel guilty for making you cry!

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  4. Actually, I assumed Gren would die. The girl the hero starts with, (especially if they love each other dearly and get along) is never the girl the hero ends with.

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    1. Oh, that's a good one. I forgot about that. Killing off the "other" love interest is a predictable way to get rid of them too. Thanks for that, Michaella!

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  5. I NEEDED this today, Jill! You have no idea how bad I needed this.

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  6. Like Ms. Dittemore, I SO needed this today.

    My family watched a movie a couple of weeks ago and the whole time I was thinking, "Yep, that's gonna happen." and a few minutes later, "Yep, it did happen." The movie was filled with clichés. I wasn't happy in the end because I could predict the entire thing.

    So then I went to my novel thinking, "I am SO NOT going to let that happen to my manuscript!!" Then yesterday, after a 500 word dash, I edited a couple of pages. And what do you think I found? A cliché. It's marked so I can fix it in the second draft, but this post it filled with great suggestions on how I can fix it.

    Thank you so much!

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    1. If you don't mind my asking, what's your novel about?

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    2. I don’t mind at all!

      My WIP in a nutshell: A girl discovers she's from another world—one that is governed by the laws of magic instead of the laws of science like Earth. A sword of deadly magic, lost for centuries, is "powering up" because humans are losing their innate magic—creativity. She has to find and destroy this sword before it can disrupt the balance between Earth and the other world.

      That's a basic summary. :)

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    3. That's really cool! :D

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    4. Thanks! I'm glad you like it.

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    5. It happens to us all, Linea. And I, too, like your idea. Keep at it! You'll get all those cliches out of there!

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    6. Thanks so much for your encouragement. :)

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  7. I needed this too...I didn't really think about it this way before, about the predictability creating opportunities. I definitely have a scene that needs some help.

    I'm desperately trying to wrap up this book without it going on and on but not really going anywhere, and that's needed a lot of determination. The scene I'm working on is tricky in that I need to leak a secret somehow, but I'm not sure how. My MC just took pity on a character from the opposing side and brought him along, and...that's about where I am. So, maybe this character could overhear the secret or something and betray the MC and crew? But that's definitely kinda predictable. Any ideas, y'all?

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    1. You could have the opposing side character already in possession of the secret and just waiting for the right time to betray the MC. Or maybe this character could be informed of the secret by one of his fellows, after he's been picked up by the MC. Another thought is that he begins to side with MC and crew after being around them for a bit, discovers the secret, and warns the MC instead of going back to the opposing side.

      It kind of depends on the story (genre, etc.) but I hope that helps a bit!

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    2. Aha! I've got it!

      He could begin to side with the MC and then Mr. not-so-smart MC can tell him or he can overhear or something, and decide not to betray them...then some undisclosed way, the secret can get out anyway and MC will think it was his new buddy. But it wasn't. Thus...conflict! Whooo! Thanks for the help, Linea! I appreciate it! :)

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    3. No problem! I'm glad you were able to figure something out! :)

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  8. Wow! The book sounds interesting! And I'll definitely be looking for ways to put that in my book. *heads to thinking corner*


    Alexa S. Winters
    thessalexa.blogspot.com

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  9. I love this. There is nothing more exciting than seeing a story totally go in a direction I could not anticipate. Love it! Thank you!

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