It doesn’t matter how carefully you plot–your story will always surprise you. (Tweet This)
Sometimes those surprises are good. In the horror/romance/suspense I’m writing, I had slated the main protagonist to face a terrible tragedy throughout the plot.
The tragedy got better. In one scene. Whoops! There goes that side plot!
Now I don’t always take plot surprises well. However, in this case my beta readers loved the plot twist. And after a skim of the outline, I realized why. This protagonist had been put through the wringer, and she was continually dealing with oppression from the Big Bad.
The plot twist gave hope. And in doing so, it also motivated me to keep writing. Hopefully? It will keep the readers going through the next disaster that the character will face.
Stories are a balance of disaster and hope. (Tweet This)
A lot of books and websites tend to focus on the disaster part, perhaps assuming that authors enjoy coddling their characters and so aren’t willing to make them hurt. While this can be a temptation, it can be equally tempting to veer too far in the other direction and leave out the hope. After all, the best way to end a scene is uncertainty, right? Ladle on the disaster and darkness and peril, and readers won’t be able to put it down.
But after a while? Darkness gets, well, dark. Sneaking in tidbits of hope, whether it’s a brief romantic moment, a few snarky one-liners, or even a spiritual realization, can give the reader just a bit more to go on, to cling to, while they ride out the next wave of frustration. And if you’re mean enough, you can create that moment of disaster by yanking away the hope. Just make sure there’s another hopeful moment coming on down the line.
- The Hunger Games: Katniss meets Rue in the arena, and gets the brief reprieve of companionship.
- Star Wars – The Empire Strikes Back: Luke survives confronting Darth Vader, AND gets a neat cyborg hand – which shows he is moving forward.
- Les Miserables: Jean Valjean repeatedly has moments of peace and tranquility before the Javert tracks him down (again).
Depending on the genre? Some stories need more disaster (thrillers, suspense, dystopian). Others thrive on the hopeful moments (romance, comedy). But in most cases? You need a mix of both. It will help you and the reader keep turning pages.
Have you seen a movie, book, or television show that does this well? How about your own work? Please share!