Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Surprise Shock and Delight Your Reader

by PeggySue Wells @PeggySueWells

Readers like to be surprised. Characters that remain in our memories long after the story is complete often are the ones who in some way shocked, surprised, and delighted the reader. 

In a romp of storytelling, the characters in Fool’s Gold rapidly shift from enemies to partners to competitors to team players. The feature film starring Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson, is loosely based on the true story of treasure hunter Mel Fisher’s discovery of the 1622 wreck of the Nuestra Senora de Atocha. The fun surprise is how character alliances break and form as new information comes to light, and in reaction to choices others make. Rather than casting characters into the customary roles of good guys versus bad guys, the writers rotate characters in and out of these places.

“Surprise the Broca,” author James L. Rubart described. Named for the medical doctor and scientist who studied it in 1861, the Broca area of the brain is directly behind the prefrontal cortex. Everything we see and hear passes through Broca before arriving in the prefrontal area where we make decisions and choose to take action or not. 

“Broca’s area of the brain is like the filter or the bouncer of the brain,” Rubart said. “It filters out information that’s not surprising, provocative, or entertaining.” Memorable characters surprise, shock, and delight the Broca area of the reader’s brain. The more a writer knows the personality, background, and motivations about a character, the greater opportunity to highlight aspects to surprise the reader. 

Page turning stories include surprising, shocking, and delighting the reader through changing, disturbing, and heartwarming interactions between characters and settings, conflict and resolution.

Surprising changes such as
  • The young man nicknamed Duchess vacillates between reasonable and unstable, valiant and injurious in Amor Towles’ The Lincoln Highway.
  • The illegitimate grandson of a lesser king is revealed to be the son of the High King Ambrosius Aurelianus in Mary Stewart’s Crystal Cave. The author builds to a second striking revelation in Hollow Hills when Arthur learns he is not Merlin’s illegitimate child, but the High King’s heir.
  • In Laura Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, Anne shuns friendship with Gilbert, then discovers she loves him.
  • Bucky is Steve Roger’s best friend and support, then his toughest enemy, and eventually redeemed team player in the Captain America / Avengers story.
Shocking such as 
  • The evil, heartless man bent on destroying others is brother to the brave, compassionate, mysterious rescuer, Bones, in Charles Martin’s Murphy Shepherd series. 
  • The base evil done by those entrusted to do good in John Grisham’s A Time For Mercy.
  • The training practice that is actually the deciding war between Earth and an invader from space in Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game.
  • Learning Katherine is Evelyn Mulwray’s sister and daughter in Robert Towne’s Chinatown.

Delightful relationships including
  • The complicated connections between an apartment complex full of unlikely residents in Fredrik Backman’s My Grandmother Says To Tell You She’s Sorry.
  • A friendship formed between a spider and a runt pig in E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web.
  • A lost girl, a scarecrow, a lion, and a tinman in L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. 
  • A U.S. Second Lieutenant on his first mission and a German ace in the middle of World War Two in. A Higher Call by Adam Makos. 

“I didn’t see that coming,” frequently describes a reader’s response when the author has woven in a surprising, shocking, and delightful characteristic, history, motivation, or behavior. 
  • Surprise your reader with unique experiences such as a HALO jump, diving the mile deep wall off the coast of St. Croix, and attending a social event in the center of the category 5 Hurricane 
  • Hugo in Chasing Sunrise.
  • Shock your reader with information such as the impact of the Meissner Effect, the living conditions in poor villages, and the consequences of decisions on others in The Patent.
  • Delight your reader with unusual settings such as working a shift in a satellite monitoring room, drinking from an ancient well deep in the Negev desert, and breakfasting on hummus, dates, and Turkish coffee at a Jewish kibbutz in Secrecy Order.
How can your characters surprise, shock, and delight your reader?

Surprise Shock and Delight Your Reader, tips from @PeggySueWells on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

Tropical island votary and history buff, PeggySue Wells parasails, skydives, snorkels, scuba dives, and has taken (but not passed) pilot training. Writing from the 100-Acre Wood in Indiana, Wells is the bestselling author of thirty books including The Slave Across the Street, Slavery in the Land of the Free, Bonding With Your Child Through Boundaries, Homeless for the Holidays, Chasing Sunrise, and The Ten Best Decisions A Single Mom Can Make. Founder of SingleMomCircle.com, PeggySue is named for the Buddy Holly song with the great drumbeat. At school author visits, she teaches students the secrets to writing and speaks at events and conferences. Connect with her at www.PeggySueWells.com, on Facebook at PeggySue Wells, and LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/peggysuewells

Featured Image: Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

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