Never Do What They Want

TGIF! Casey here.

This is a continuation of last week’s topic – When in Doubt Throw in a Flying Monkey or Three. I guess I have monkeys on the brain. Or it could be that I’m in the next phase of editing – clean-up!

And it got me thinking of some very excellent writing advice from Orson Scott Card (and I’m paraphrasing here) – never take the reader where they want to go.

At least not until the very end.

What a wicked web we weave.
What a wicked web we weave. . . .

As a writer, I like the way that rolls off the tongue. It makes the Author Goddess inside of me delirious with happiness. It means I have the freedom to do what’s necessary to my characters (like send in the flying monkeys).

And readers love it too. Doing the unexpected is what keeps the reader turning the pages. That’s why many chapters end on hooks or with uncertainty. Just when you think the hero or heroine has found happiness, a sudden wrench in the plot sends them into disarray.

Deliciously evil if you ask me. Wonderful too! So how do you accomplish those twists and turns?

1. Be receptive to wild ideas. I’m a plotter, but, I’m always ready to write something crazy (like the flying monkeys). I have also found this comes with practice. The more stories you finish, the more willing your mind becomes.

2. Trust your characters. They can help you find those twists and turns. Again, even plotters can do this by letting them off the leash once in a while.

3. Be mean to your characters. If they are cruising along, getting what they want all the time, that is a huge red flag. Remember, like the readers, they don’t get to go from point A to point B. They have to get lost. A lot!

4. Never end a chapter at a natural break. Think back to television shows - end with a Yarntwist. The old advice: don’t end a chapter with a character going to sleep is true. The reader might stop and not pick your book back up again.

5. Follow through. Don’t forget to eventually tie up all loose ends. So, it’s fine to dangle the reader from the edge of a cliff or leave them with an intriguing puzzle, but by the story’s end you’d better tie it in a bow. Either solve the mystery, provide that happily ever after or create suspense for the next book (if there is one) or your reader will walk!

These are just a few ideas. What are your favorite ways to ensure the reader keeps turning those pages?

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13 thoughts on “Never Do What They Want”

  1. Hi Casey. I’m always tough on my characters and love to throw in twists and turns, especially where they (and the reader) lease expect it. I especially like to end a chapter leaving the character in some precarious position almost forcing the reader to go on in order to find out what’s going to happen. Thanks for sharing – loved the blog.

  2. Hi Casey,

    I think it depends on what I’m writing, but I tend to find myself either torturing my characters or writing “whuh?” moments at yhe end of a chapter. Kill off a character or find out a “dead” character is alive? I’ve done that. Have the villian show up and do something wretched? Done that too. My sweet, innocent heroine finds herself in a brothel? Uh, check.

    I think it’s fun to keep them guessing!

    Great blog. :)

  3. Wrench my hero and heroine away from each other, come together, leave again, again and again. Each time for a different reason. The antagonist gets muddled in the middle, frequently, sticks his mistress in his wife’s face, and then tries to win his wife’s love, tries to kill the hero. Secondary characters meddle in, such a mess. I am having fun moving these moods and behaviors around. All this is real, unforgivable, true life happenings. And I thought that the 19th century was so innocent, so naive, so uncomplicated. I am out of my dark box, and seeking trouble. Terrific post Casey, very thought provoking.

  4. Great stuff here, Casey! I love those hook chapter endings. In my final revisions, I’m always looking for conflict on the page–every page. The best part of being a writer is letting my characters surprise even me with the way the story goes and the weird obstacles that come between them and their HEA. It’s in the resolution to those conflicts that makes them grow and change at the end. Thanks for the suggestions for creating some twists.

    1. That’s good advice – find conflict on every page! Being a writer really is so much fun. I know it can be work at times, but seriously, I still can’t believe the stuff that comes out of my head :)

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