Last week, I tweeted my blog post about stereotyping characters with the #MondayBlogs hashtag. The user in the pic loved it, retweeted it, and had some questions for me. This is part of the conversation that occurred.
I’ve been thinking about the last question ever since. Is defying expectations the key to a good story?
In most cases, I’d say yes, and not just in the area of stereotyping. The plot plays a huge role. Readers make predictions as they read, and they continue to read in order to find out if their predictions are correct. I’d argue most expect their predictions will be correct, even though the story would be boring if that really happened. The great stories are those that defy the readers’ expectations in an engaging way.
This is the part where I would write some examples, but I’m not going to because doing so would provide giant story spoilers. Even if I included well known ones like Mockingjay and Harry Potter, I’d still risk ruining it for someone. The twists within those stories, the parts that no one saw coming, made those books what they are. If I gave away a twist, the future reader would already see it coming. They would be expecting it, so it wouldn’t be as exciting.
Notice I said in most cases a couple paragraphs back. One way to defy expectations in a unfavorable way is to decrease the tension. If you’re setting up the characters to rob a bank, meaning they have all the supplies, they’re dressed for the occasion, and they’re driving the getaway car to the targeted institution, it would be quite a letdown if they stopped for coffee along the way.Sure, you’ve defied expectations, but the drama and tension flew out the window.
So how do you know if you’re defying expectations with the story you’re writing? I’d say if there are parts you don’t want to talk about to potential readers, parts that you anxiously wait for your beta readers to reach because you know they won’t see it coming, then you’ve set up your story to defy expectations.
What do you think? How do you try to keep your readers guessing?