Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Surprises and unique story elements

I've been thinking a lot about surprises and unique story elements, mostly because I've discovered how much I love it as a reader when something surprises me, in a good way.

I'm reading a contemporary novel for adults right now, Nowhere But Home, and I was enjoying it just fine and then... surprise! Something different. Unique. Something that made me go - wow, I haven't seen that in a book before. Suddenly my desire to get back to this book has increased tenfold. I'm dying to see where this new plot thread goes. I'm SO intrigued by it (I'm not going to tell you what it is, in case you want to read it).

But here's an example that might illustrate what I mean, because I realize "surprises" can mean lots of different things. One of the things I really loved about The Silver Linings Playbook is that I wasn't expecting the dance-thing. At all. It took me completely by surprise, and it kind of turned the story on its head and made it so much more fun.

In my YA novel Falling For You, I added a fun element, a surprise, in the way of secret notes to give the reader a bit of a break from what is a pretty dark story at times. I've read a few other books where secret notes or "clues" (that lead the character places) play a part, and I can specifically remember how much I loved that part of the story.

I really believe readers want to be surprised one way or another, and it is our job, as writers, to figure out how to do that.

One of the things I've started doing when I'm writing a book is to brainstorm "fun" things in my notebook. It's usually a list of random things that make me smile and that I might like to put in a book some day. Not all the things get put in *that* book and sometimes I come across an idea I save for a book all its own.

Another example of this comes via this drawing, which a reader sent to me after she read the first two "Cupcake" books and wanted to give me ideas for the third book.

Along with this picture she drew (which I love by the way), she gave me a description of every girl in the band and what she wore. It made me realize (and remember my hairbrush singing days) that most girls this age love music and probably do imagine from time to time what it would be like to be on stage, singing or playing music. This led me to putting Lily, the main character in Frosting and Friendship, in a band with a few of her friends, since she loves to sing. The girls are new at this band thing, trying to find their way with playing music and writing songs, as they would be at the ages of twelve and thirteen. But I love how this part of the story played out and how it came to be a part of the main plot.

Another way to look at this comes via my friend and NYT bestselling author Laini Taylor. She's said on her blog a few different times that one of her favorite questions to ask while she's writing is this: "What is the coolest way this plot thing might happen?"

Cool. Fun. Unique. 

Keep these words in mind, and find ways to bring the cool, the fun, the unique to your story and surprise the reader. You'll be glad you did. And so will your readers!!


  1. Yes, yes! I totally agree with you about the unexpected elements in both Nowhere But Home and Silver Linings Playbook. Surprises like that can totally make a book (or movie, or TV show) for me.

    1. I am so curious how the "surprise" is going to play out in Nowhere But Home (and so glad you gave it a big thumbs-up, because it made me pick it up!)

  2. Thanks for this awesome advice! Very excited for FROSTING AND FRIENDSHIP