Tuesday, March 28, 2006

It's Not What You Think

I lie awake waiting for you. As I lie on my bed, thinking about you, I feel this strong urge to grab you and squeeze you, because I can't forget last night. You came to me unexpectedly during the balmy and calm night, and what happened in my bed still leaves a tingling sensation in me.

You appeared from nowhere and shamelessly, without any reservations, you lay on my naked body...

You sensed my indifference, so you applied your hungry mouth to me without any guilt or humiliation, and you nearly drove me crazy while you drained me. Finally I went to sleep.

Today when I woke up, you were gone. I searched for you but to no avail, only the sheets bore witness to last night's events.

My body still bears faint marks of your enthusiastic indulgence, making it harder to forget you.

Tonight I will remain awake, waiting for you....




....you fucking mosquito.



Whoever wrote that joke understands the concept of the twist.

There are, for me, several facets of a book that make it a good book. I would never sell character short for plot, nor would I dispense with the plot for a romance, so this isn’t about elevating one element of a story about the rest.

But damn people, twists are wonderful.

I had that experience recently, reading a manuscript for a fellow author and friend. There were some nice, neat touches Steven pulled in the story that gave me a grin. The way what I expected would happen didn’t satisfied me as a reader, because I don’t want to see the end from the beginning.

I want to feel like reading a book has been a process of discovery.

The twist seems to be one of the things that new writers are afraid of. I’m speculating, but based on story submissions for a few magazines, a number of editors have summed up a story to me with, “no surprise there.”

So, add that to the list of essential ingredients when you’re writing. There’s a trick to balancing this, because there are times the predictability of a certain aspect of the storyline, a certain action from the character… that’s what the reader is aching for. For example, Rankin fans grin with glee when Rebus confronts Cafferty in a novel. It’s something that you would expect and the build up and then the actual encounter is sweet to the reader, never dull, trite, boring, overused.

Simply, in that scenario, the history of the characters demands that confrontation.

So, you must ask yourself always what the purpose of any scene is. Sometimes, fulfilling that sense of anticipation for a reader is going to be very important.

But other times, following the path of least resistance is a way to ensure the reader feels let down.

Look to the masters in your field, look to the writers you would want to be compared to. See how they’re handling plot twists and apply the principles you learn. You don’t want so many twists that people confuse you for a gymnast, yet you want to make sure you have a few nice moments in the plot where you turn the reader’s world upside down and leave them with a smile, because they didn’t see that coming, but it just made the story much more interesting.

***

And, in other news, I’ll be posting of forum follies at some point this week, and I think (finally) the much anticipated FRENCH TONGUES post will be unleashed on an unsuspecting blog-reading population.

26 comments:

Boy Kim said...

Me and Eldest Princess react badly to mosquito bites, so they are the only living thing I will gladly kill. (Well, maybe there's an exception or two to that right now...)

Anyway, I always find it a great source of amusement to remind The P's it is the female mosquito that is the blood-sucker.

Fucking females. Oops... I mean fucking mosquitoes.

Bernita said...

Dayum, for a moment I thought you had secretly invaded my files and read my next sex scene.
Then....heeeeeeeng...slap!

Excellent point, Sandra.
~wanders off wondering if her story is too predictable~

Vincent said...

In some of the later Terry Pratchett books I've found myself a little disappointed with the plot twists for one of the reasons you mention. While I still believe he's a great writer, there have been incidents in his stories where he seems to have deliberately steered away from the obvious and predictable conclusion to a plot thread. The problem is, some of those threads were like the Rebus one - rightly or wrongly, I found myself expecting or even hoping a scenario would play out a certain way and then it didn't. Nothing quite as obvious as setting up a good guy / bad guy antagonism and then completely omitting any kind of showdown, but the same principle. Knowing when to employ the obvious is perhaps just as much a skill as devising a tricky twist.

Erik Ivan James said...

It's difficult to make a serious comment while laughing so hard. So I won't try.

JamesO said...

I'm hopeless at the twisty stuff - or at least it seems to me that I am. The problem is that by the time I've written the twist it's no longer unexpected to me, especially if I've spent a while setting it up.

I also think that there is a certain amount of predictability that is necessary if your characters are going to be believable (unless your book's set in a loony bin, then anything goes). The trick, as in all writing, is in striking the right balance. And however much fun you might think it is to turn your readers upside down from time to time, those twists need to be plausible - the more so, the more effective they are.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Boy Kim, what am I going to do with you?

Bernita, LOL! Nope, I'm waiting patiently for your next borderline erotica post. Highly, erm, educational guys. Yes, that's the word.

Vincent, it is difficult. I think this is where a writer has to trust their gut. I'll email you with a little story that isn't for the blogs...

Erik, glad you liked the joke.

Or are you suggesting my entire post was laughable? (joking.)(i hope.)

James, you're too modest. You're excellent with the twists because yours are so subtle, AND they make sense. You sell yourself short, my talented friend.

R.J. Baker said...

Twists for the twisted...Writing in the mystery genre as you and I both do, twists are part and parcel of te fabric of mystery. It can be over used, overdone, and confusing, just like a sex scene.

I prefer the slow twist of lime in a Corona, the slow twist of a dagger in the heart , and the slow twist of female lions against my....and a plot twist the makes my head spin. ; )~

Bernita said...

You mean the one where she squeezes his balls, Sandra?
Hadn't intended to reveal that one...

Sandra Ruttan said...

RJ, I like the way you describe twists - delicious and perfect.

Bernita - and I thought you'd done all the ball-squeezing you were going to already today? Well, surprise, surprise...

Stephen Blackmoore said...

Twists can be tough. Everything leading to that point needs to be consistent and feel inevitable. By the time the reader gets to it they should be able to look back at the story and be able to say, "Oh. Of course it would work that way." Without that consistency it's just going to feel like laziness or a cheap shot.

For example, M. Night Shamalamadindong's, or whatever the hell his name is, movie The Sixth Sense. The internal consistency is such that, if you're paying attention, by the time you hit the end it all works. There are no deus ex machinas.

For me, though, the most difficult aspect of doing a twist ending isn't maintaining the consistency, it's parsing the details out to the reader such that I'm not withholding anything. It strikes me as lazy writing when an author feels that they have to hide something from the reader to make the story work. It feels as though the quality of the writing is playing second string to the twist ending, rather then the other way around.

I think it's sometimes easier to do twist endings with third person, because the reader doesn't know everything that's going on for any one character. Hints based on action or dialog can foreshadow the ending and obscure it at the same time. In the Maltese Falcon, you never know what Spade is thinking, only what he's doing. You can see where the book might go, but you can't be sure until the very end.

I tend to write first person, self absorbed narcissist that I am, and I find twist endings difficult. There's an assumption that the narrator in first person is reliable, that he or she is telling the truth. Unreliable narrators have to be that much more consistent because you're in their head.

Of course, if it's a twist that hits the protagonist as much as it hits the reader, then you don't have to worry about that. All the other characters can lie their heads off and it won't hurt the reliability of the narrator.

Boy Kim said...

I'm hoping for your sake - well, for everyone's sake, really - that your question was rhetorical.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Stephen, I completely agree with you.

It's a difficult balance between believable and lazy. But I'm glad you commented at length because I was too lazy to write my usual novel-length post this morning.

Boy Kim, am I seeing you in July? You might find out...

Bernita said...

Stephen, thank you, as well as Sandra.

Trace said...

Another excellent post. And I love that joke.

Bernita said...

Seems boy Kim wants all females to be totally abstemious, Sandra...

Sandra Ruttan said...

Unless, of course, they're the ones he's interested in.

I recall some interesting remarks about why bother with the bedroom, just get them in the door and get on with it...

Which, of course, made ME blush.

Boy Kim said...

Ooooh... that's one of those neat words with all the vowels in their correct order, isn't it?

Now all I gots to do is find out what it means. And why BlabberWoman thinks I might be interested in females who exhibit abstemiousity. I imagine one might be more straightforward than the other.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Well, I was going to say something about you being interested in mannequins too, but then I thought people would wonder how I knew that.

Trusty satellite spy cam.

Boy Kim said...

*waves at Sandra* G'night hon!

Sandra Ruttan said...

G'night.

I'm going to have a bubble bath.

Dana Y. T. Lin said...

I tend to be more revealing in the end then have a twist. Hopefully, either way, it will surprise and please the reader.

Sandra Ruttan said...

More revealing?

Uh, I didn't realize you wrote that kind of stuff Dana.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Oh, ha...I got the point....damn bugs! Great joke!

I agree with your post...good job...'nuff said! LOL

R.J. Baker said...

Bubble bath? And ball twisting?

Daniel Hatadi said...

Great post, Sandra. And great novel-length comment, Stephen.

If I keep reading stuff like this, it'll be impossible to avoid becoming a better writer.

Thanks, guys.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Yeah, Stephen's comments make my posts seem short and sweet!