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 Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, 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!
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.