I write stuff for kids...and muse on writing, children's books, and the publishing industry in general

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

My A-Z of Writing Tips: Jellyfish!

(Source)
LOL, you didn't expect that one did you!

In the same way, you should always make sure your plotlines aren't predictable.

When people (whether your mother, your critique partner, your agent, or anyone really) can read a few pages of your book and think to themselves, "I know how that one's going to turn out," it's time to shake things up. Zig instead of zag. Introduce an unexpected character vulnerability/situation/response. Take a "cliched" plotline and turn it on its head.

In other words, keep your readers guessing. And because they can't predict what will happen next, they'll stay interested and invested right to the end of your book.

How about you: Do you have any strategies for making your plotlines unpredictable? And how important do you think this is?

ETA: And check out Cally Jackson's comment below about the importance of any plot twists being believable. So true - shake things up, but make sure any twist falls within the realm of probability (1) in the manuscript's world, (2) with regards to the characters in your manuscript, and (3) realistically taking into account things the reader will believe possible.

19 comments:

Raising Marshmallows said...

I love to zig instead of zag! This is great advice and it's exactly where my novel is headed!

Nikki

Grandpa said...

Hi Rach, you made me wonder, what has jellyfish got to do with writing...
sound advice - as a reader I fully agree.
I will let you know my strategies once I start writing that book ok.

*Hugs*

Grandpa
Life on The Farm

mooderino said...

Top tip.
cheers,
mood
Moody Writing

Cally Jackson said...

Very important! Though not as important as staying within the bounds of believability. The only thing worse than predictability is disbelief. I've tried to throw in some unpredictable-but-still-believable plot twists. Looking forward to seeing whether beta readers & critters think they work! :-)

Cally Jackson said...

Awww, thanks Rach! Glad you found my comment worthwhile. :-)

Elisabeth said...

I'm not into plots, Rachel. I just like things to happen, but then again I'm a non-fiction writer. I can afford to let the plot take care of itself, as it does in life.

Kari Marie said...

Excellent tip. Whenever I see a jellyfish I'm going to think about plotting.

E. Arroyo said...

Great reminder!

lbdiamond said...

LOL, no I wasn't expecting jellyfish.

Nice way to introduce your tip of keeping readers on their toes. ;)

Carol Riggs said...

Nice post! Really important stuff. I don't want to be predictable in my writing; I TRY to twist around. Some people guess and some don't. :)

Ellie said...

Thank you for reminding me to shake things up occasionally!

Ellie Garratt

Nofretiri said...

*hmm* But in certain situations you could use exactly that 'being predictable' as well chosen method to make your reader think he/she knows, what direction it might take ... but then, of course, you have to surprise or take another direction! I think of using also some cliches!

Maybe an example helps better to explain, what I mean: In 'Lord of the Rings' first there is that Strider, dark, kind of kreepy, not really trustworthy ... but then it occurs, that he's the biggest help for the Hobbits.

Like always it's all a matter of well placed guesses, believes and wrong informations! :-)

Karin @ Nofretiris Dream Of Writing

Claire Goverts said...

What a fun post, and with some good advice.

T.F.Walsh said...

Great discussion. Along with plot twists, I also try to use red herrings to get the reader guessing what might come next / or who done it.

Alleged Author said...

I love plot twists. Like them especially when a character shows so much growth over a novel. That is a plot twist within itself.

Angela Scott said...

Great post. I completely agree. If a reader can predict what's about to come, then you need to go back to the drawing board and revise. Surprises--if done with skill--are incredibly fun for a reader to write. I would love for my readers to say, "Holy crap! I didn't see that coming. I need to read the next chapter to see where this is going. Holy crap! The next chapter blows my mind too. I need to read the next chapter to see where this is going" ... and so on and so on.
Predictability can be a killer of all things good. But strange randomness can do the same as well.

Consider yourself stalked (I've already been stalking you, but I shall stalk you more, you BEST DARN BLOGS EVER you).

~Angela

Madeline Bartos said...

For one, taking a character's decision or their reaction and totally spinning it around always spiffs things up. And decisions and reactions go beyond the MC. There are other characters fighting for their goals that can change the course of the story. If you wrote the first idea that came to mind, it's probably not too original.

Wub2Write said...

None of my critique buddies saw the twist ending to my novel coming. It was so much fun getting there! Great post! :-)

Adina West said...

I think as I'm more of a character-based writer and only loosely outline before writing, my plot doesn't get the detailed planning it otherwise might. Hopefully that means that what does happen is nice and unpredictable for me and the reader both!

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