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Surprise vs Anticipation

PostPosted: 07 May 2013, 08:40
by Baker
I am writing this plea to authors as a reader who has been pissed off beyond endurance by an author who relies far too heavily on Surprise! rather than anticipation.

First, what do I mean? Surprise! is where the author pulls a surprise on either one or more of the characters or on the reader. I don't mean a plot twist. They can be fun for everyone. I mean those scenes or events where the author conceals information for some time, then springs it out as a Surprise! Both can be problematic, but concealing information from the reader can be fatal. For example:

1) Character X does not know that Character Y, her ex, has returned to their home town after years. The author contrives to keep the knowledge from Character X so that she can have Character Y show up at the restaurant where Character X is having dinner with Character I.

2) Character Y has a Serious Disease that has caused her to make Major Life Changes, but the author omits any and all mention of it for half the book, including multiple scenes from Characer Y's point of view.

I suspect, authors, you think this is a cool way to add interest to your plot. Oh, I am going to hit the reader with this Surprise! and that will make them read even harder. You might be right. Have you considered the possibility that in many instances you might be dead wrong? Have you looked at this issue from my perspective as your reader? Have you considered that to create your moment of Surprise! you have sacrificed a great deal of Anticipation that would engage your reader far more? No?

Have a wee think about this in general terms. Surprises can be fun, but they're fleeting. Now, compare this to Anticipation. The knowing that something is coming allows plenty of time for the reader to imagine all sorts of possibilities. "Will this happen?" "What if Character X reacts badly?" "How would I feel it this were to happen?" We readers imagine these things during the time between when we know Event A is going to happen and when Event A actually happens. We extrapolate, we consider, we imagine. In other words, we engage with your story in ways beyond the words you write. We add our own depth to it. Anticipation gets us thinking about not only Event A, but how it will affect all the characters. We want to read up to Event A to see which possibility eventuates.

Let's put this even more plainly and personally, dear author. You are going to receive a gift in 7 days. You know you are going to receive something, but I'm not going to tell you what. Do you ever, in the next 7 days speculate what it might be? Or why I am going to give it? And what your reaction might be if it turns out to be X? What if it's Y? Now, compare this to me simply giving you a gift. Which one involves you more? In which scenario--suprise! or anticipation--do you invest more time and mental engagement?

Think about it. Please.

A Reader.

Re: Surprise vs Anticipation

PostPosted: 05 Jun 2013, 23:05
by Proofrdr
Dear A Reader:

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Such authors have zero awareness of that most basic element of story telling. The Greeks wrote plays about myths that everyone knew and the audiences were emotionally drained by seeing them again and again. In movies, the audience knows that the ship is sailing into a massive storm, that the murderer is behind the closet door, that the lover is waiting at the's called dramatic irony. The audience/reader knows what the characters do not know, and watching the characters try to figure it our creates dramatic tension. The author can lead the character toward understanding, then divert them again and again, until the final revelation. That builds dramatic tension and keeps a reader involved. Books without that tension are flaccid, blah, and at the final reveal, the reaction is a ho-hum.

A Nother Reader

Re: Surprise vs Anticipation

PostPosted: 08 Jun 2013, 09:06
by Baker
Proofrdr wrote:Such authors have zero awareness of that most basic element of story telling.

Yes, this. How can you have reached adulthood, with enough passion for books and reading that you start writing your own, and yet have picked up no basic idea how storytelling works?

Also they lack awareness of how they themselves read. I mean, if you want to understand how a technique or device will affect a reader, you have a test subject in yourself to whose reactions and thought processes you have perfect access. If an author thinks a reader is an uninquisitive, unthinking, passive object she can spoonfeed things to and manipulate in the crudest way, perhaps that might be how she reads, but I doubt it.