Monday, March 29, 2010

Unexpected Responses

What I'm reading: The Last Assassin, by Barry Eisler

Thanks to Jess for the extra weekend posts. By the time this is posted, she's probably already had dinner, and I'll be getting everything together to go to my other daughter's house where I can work in a real kitchen.

Yesterday, we enjoyed a family day with our son and grandson. We went to the zoo, one of his favorite places. However, his pleasure seemed derived from the unexpected. He loves the giraffes, and the zoo has (I believe) the largest collection of any zoo in the US. We arrived just as they were releasing the herd from their night quarters into the outdoor paddock. After a moment or two watching, grandson decided it was more fun to play with the snow that clung to the paddock rails.

As we continued, the question was always, "Do you want to go see the … (insert animal name here)?" and the response was always "Yes." But along the route, even in full view of the elephant, tapir, okapi, or whatever, he was more interested in the "other" stuff.

There were animal-shaped benches along one path. Those were more fun than the animals. At the bear paddock, it wasn't the huge grizzly that captured his attention, but rather the fish in the pond. Turkeys and a moose couldn't compete with the the ducks swimming around their area. Likewise at the tiger paddock, where the cat was active and getting close to spectators. Grandson was excited about the rocks and waterfall.

Characters are more interesting when they do something unexpected. As writers, we must always be thinking of the "push-pull" where we move our characters in one direction, but then stick something else in their paths. In romance, it's often manifested in sexual tension. Readers expect the hero and heroine to behave in certain ways, yet things interfere, or maybe they're just not interested, or ready, or willing, to follow that path.In mystery, of course the author must fill the story with things that look like they're related to the case, but end up being dead ends.

Our son has been alone with Grandson for a couple of days. He decided to bake chocolate cupcakes with chocolate frosting and sprinkle. Grandson loved the entire process, including the eating. Son posted pictures of the delighted (and obviously messy) child to family. The responses he got from 3 out of 4 relatives (all female, for the record) surprised him. I'm sure he expected praise for his talent and comments about how cute Grandson was. Instead, everyone gave him a hard time because he'd dressed the kid in white that day. In a story, you might have the father character trying to impress a woman, and in the above example, the result probably won't be what he wanted. He's expecting to get closer to the woman, and instead, might end up in a fight.

Surprises and twists keep the readers turning pages. It's a balancing act, because you can't have a character do something that goes against everything you've set up. You need to be sure you've laid the foundations for whatever responses you're writing.

But if the read is totally predictable, it's likely your reader might either give up the book, or worse, not pick up the next one(s).

Tomorrow, my guest, Joan Maze, will be talking about stepping out of the box. Be sure to come back.

And be sure to visit the Long And Short Review site to see their Easter scavenger hunt. They have loads of great prizes. I'm participating, which means there's an image hidden on my website which is one of the clues for the contest. It looks like this:


Jess said...

JD was wearing white? All I saw was the cupcake and expressions of glee! Haven't had dinner's only 2. :) Would like to note for readers that pollack doesn't work well in gefilte fish as the only fish. *fail* But the recipe as written does work with cod, haddock and salmon.

Happy Passover!

Mason Canyon said...

You just never know what will catch youngsters' attention. What we think will, usually won't and that's the fun part of it. Sounds like you had a great day with the family. Dropping over to check on the Easter Egg Hunt.

Debra St. John said...

I do love surprises in books. Being able to predict how everything is going to happen and/or turn out takes some of the fun out of reading.

I love those "hey, do you see the ____________" surprises in life, too!

Cleo Coyle said...

Surprises are absolutely the spice of life -- and good storytelling. I could not agree more. Just dropping by to say, hey, and also send an overdue thank you for your veggie dip recipe ideas. Your quick dill dip is a winner... and spring is putting the fear of shorts-wearing weather into me. Conclusion -- veggie dip time. :)

(Happy Passover!)

Terry Odell said...

Jess - Thanks for the heads up. As a doting aunt, I suppose it's understandable that you saw only the face, not the clothes.

Mason - Yes, we did. Happy searching.

Debra, I totally agree. Even when we know the detective will solve the crime, or the h/h will have their HEA, the surprises keep us reading.

Cleo - so nice to see you here and glad you enjoyed the dill recipe. As I recall, my mom used to serve it in hollowed-out cherry tomatoes for parties, but that's too much work for 'normal' life.

Lou Belcher said...

Great point about predictability. It's more comfortable to write about the predictable, but you're right... not as much fun to read.


Terry Odell said...

Lou - yes, the little twists can be as important as those major turning points.

Maryann Miller said...

Giving the reader, or audience, something unexpected is a key in good storytelling. I like the way you used the cupcake-making experience to illustrate that writing point.

Carol Kilgore said...

I love twists and turns and surprises. I like the idea of a character loving the snow when you've set him up to be impressed by giraffes in your story. Perfect. Thanks.

Terry Stonecrop said...

Good point to keep in mind. I liked the story of the white clothes and chocolate cupcakes. Cute.

Terry Odell said...

Maryann, Carol, Terry - just goes to show you how real life triggers story ideas, right?