Monday, June 20, 2011

COTT - Shattering Reader Expectations

Have you ever dug your heels in and fought fervently for something, only to find out your sparring partner fought an entirely different battle? Some of the most irritating arguments, on and off the page, arise from miscommunications. As authors, we can use the human tendency to misread between the lines to add conflict to our stories. The interchange between J.T. Tucker and Hanna Richards in Karen Witemeyer’s A Tailor-Made Bride is a perfect example.

J.T.’s mistranslation begins with his preconceived ideas of dressmakers, fueled by his frustration over losing the shop Miss Richards purchases. Then, after experiencing J.T.’s rather curt behavior, Miss Richards performs her own faulty translation, presuming his body language and gruff behavior result from a hardened heart. The result is comical tension that reveals the inner fears, concerns, and struggles of each character.

Writers can pull this same bait and switch on their readers by setting them up for an expectation then failing to deliver. Sound contentious? Perhaps. But it will keep your reader turning pages. Here’s what I mean. Let’s go back to A Tailor-Made Bride, Clash of the Titles’ current book club novel. In one of the earlier chapters, Miss Richards notices approaching footsteps. Glancing outside, she believes Mr. Tucker is approaching. What does the reader expect? Why, Mr. Tucker to come into Miss Richard’s shop with his hat in hand, apologizing profusely for his rude behavior. Then bam! We watch Mr. Tucker disappear through another doorway, our expectations shattered. So we move on…only to be surprised yet again when Miss Richards trips over tools Mr. Tucker left outside her shop door.
Do you see how Karen set up our expectations for something, then pulled a switch?

How have you kept predictability from seeping into your novel? Any “pull-the-rug-out-from-under-the-reader” examples you’d like to share?

And if you haven’t joined our book club, there’s still time! Hop on over to to join the fun! And get ready for July’s cyber-chat as we dig into Eleanor Gustafson’s The Stones.

Jennifer Slattery is a novelist, freelance writer and biblical studies major at Calvary Bible college. In 2009 she won first place in the HACWN writing contest in the book category, placed second in the 2010 Dixie Kane, fourth in the 2010 Golden Pen and third in the 2010 CWG Operation First Novel Contest. She has a short piece appearing in Bethany House's Love is a Flame (under a pen name), forwarded by Gary Chapman, another piece in Cathy Messecar's A Still and Quiet Soul, and writes for Reflections in Hindsight, Christ to the World, Samie Sisters, The Christian Pulse, and reviews for Novel Reviews. She's also written for Granola Bar Devotions, Afictionado, The Christian Fiction Online Magazine, Romantic Times Review, Bloom and the Breakthrough Intercessor. 

1 comment:

  1. Miscommunications? Reading between the lines? Love when that happens in a book, not so much in real life. lol. Great post!