Eight Types of Surprises

Eight Types of SurpriseThe reader hook you didn’t know you needed: Eight Types of Surprises to keep the reader turning those pages.

Jessie Cal’s Superior Plot Twists talk centred on Eight Types of Surprises at last years Escape the Plot Forest summit.

According to author and writing coach Jessie Cal:

The best plot twists are the ones you don’t see coming but have been there all along.

Twisting the Plot

The plot twist engineers some kind of surprise. The first you might think of is the Whodunnit when the detective reveals the killer. But twists occur all the time in fiction. Who is the author of The Notebook? Or Pip’s benefactor in Great Expectations? Who is the traitor in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy? And then there’s the breathtaking “Luke, I am your father.”

Three types of twist

Before we get to those, let’s consider how plot twists are applied:

  • Twist in rules
  • Twist in character
  • Twist in perspective (world view)

The very literal example of a twist in rules appear in The Hunger Games, where the Gamemakers change the rules to allow both Katniss and Peta to survive.

A Christmas Carol presents the archetypal twist in character when Ebenezer Scrooge changes from a miser to a charitable benefactor.

And Pip in Great Expectations turns away from social status to live a more authentic life, which is his twist in perspective.

Setup and Payoff

Effective plot twists – unseen but there all along – involve setup and payoff. Often there’s an element of reverse-engineering and planting those ideas in the setup based on the payoff at the end.

For the setup, the author plants hints and clues in the earliest stages of the story. For the payoff, the author makes call backs to to those hints and clues.

This is a way to add depth and complexity to the story as well as a sense of fulfillment for the reader.

Plot twists enhance story

Story is all about uncertainty and anticipation. We expect something unexpected of even the most routine genre fiction. Throw in a decent plot twist – a setback, a reversal, a revelation or a change of direction – and you have the reader wondering what else is to come. Plot twists subvert reader expectations based on the story so far. Some genres are built on plot twists; mystery, action, thrillers and crime for sure. Romance demands some plot chicanery, either to keep the amorous couple from their Happy Ever After, or reveal why they are ultimately suited. Why, the proud Mr Darcy has rescued the Bennett family from a ruined reputation; Miss Elizabeth must let go her prejudice…

Not all twists are life-and-death and dramas. A plot twist could be as simple as finding out who spilt the milk in the break-room fridge and caused those two hundred pages of co-worker friction in the office.

The Eight types of Surprises

According to Jessie, those surprises are:

  • Coincidence
  • Secrets
  • Shocking Moments
  • Discoveries and Revelations
  • Red Herring
  • Plot Twist
  • Lifeline
  • Final Gasp

Examples of the Eight Surprises

Reviewing the first book of my fantasy series, I find I’ve embedded all of the eight surprises:

  • Coincidence – there’s a long discussion on how Danaan found the injured Varla in the wilderness.
  • Secrets – Jo conceals that she is the daughter of Varla’s sworn enemy. She hides most of her visions of the future.
  • Shocking Moments – the death of Varla’s family drives his motivation. Jo’s assault as a child triggers her visions.
  • Discoveries and Revelations
    Jo reveals her identity to Varla.
    Tauber reveals he is targeting Jo.
    Jo finds the two antagonists working together
  • Red Herring
    Everyone assumes Tauber is hunting Varla, when he’s really there for Jo.
  • Plot Twist
    Jo defies her visions and goes in Varla’s place; it proves none of her futures are fixed.
  • Lifeline
    Jo is able to fight the invisible Tauber by aiming at his outline in the fog.
  • Final Gasp
    At the close, the chief of the Horse Clans decides to let Jo and Varla live.

As Jessie Cal proves, there’s a full and diverse spread of twists and surprises you can deploy in your fiction.

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