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1 Key to Writing Unpredictabl-Whoa, I Can't Believe That Just Happened!

The following are excerpts from reviews of the most Awesomely Unpredictable (Imaginary) Book Ever:

"This book had me on the edge of my seat. It was so unpredictable…"
"I never knew what was going to happen next! I kept reading to find out…"
"First I was like, whoa! And then I was like, WHOA! And then it was like, WAIT I CAN'T BELIEVE THAT JUST HAPPENED THAT'S AWESOME."

Don't those sound great? I want to read that book. (If only we all had membership cards to the Imaginary Library…)

So how do you make YOUR book unpredictable?

There's anticipation (building things up so the reader actually cares about what happens). There's presentation (putting events or developments out there in a way that makes them irresistible and intriguing). There's freshness (thinking up elements of plot that haven't been done over and over - tricky!). Another key aspect of writing an unpredictable book, one that I think deserves a little more attention, is sense-making-ization (writers can make up words, right?).

It's not enough to throw any exciting event out there in the hopes that it will surprise the reader. Heck, it's really easy to do that.
Look! A cat with a gun! EVERYBODY RUN.
Central to book unpredictability is the anticipation and presentation of events that are surprising, but that make perfect sense and fit with the rest of the book. Otherwise, the reader is just like, "Huh? Okay, I guess."

Luckily, Thomas was able to wrangle the gun from the cat, and it soon returned to its cuddly, catnip-loving self.
The best way to unpredicta-fy the reader is to leave them thinking, "I can't believe it! But wait… OF COURSE. How come I didn't realize this was going to happen?" In this case, the reader never could have predicted it. Unless they were reeeeally paying attention. In which case, they'll feel smart and awesome for figuring stuff out… instead of bored, like they do when they read predictable books.

Speaking of predictable books, is predictability really such a bad thing? Not always, particularly when you're using ancient, well-loved tropes (if the good guy didn't prevail at least a little bit in the end, it would kind of suck). But surprising the reader, giving them something fresh and exciting and mind-bending, can never be a bad thing.

So go forth and write with surprise! Remember, only YOU can prevent forest fires... I mean, prediction.

What are some other ways to make a book unpredictable?
Emilia Plater

Emilia is a YA author who avoids studying, food that isn't covered in cheese, and waking up before 10:30AM whenever possible. A bundle of confusions.

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8 comments:

  1. "sense-making-ization" Of course writers can make up words, and this is a great one!

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  2. One of the most fun things about writing is when unpredictable things happen. Sometimes my MC learns things at the exact moment that I do. That's fun. Weird, but fun.

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  3. In this case, the reader never could have predicted it. Unless they were reeeeally paying attention. In which case, they'll feel smart and awesome for figuring stuff out… instead of bored, like they do when they read predictable books.

    I really love this point you made. There have been times where I was able to figure out plot twists in advance, but they weren't books I'd label predictable, since there was still a sense of doubt there, so in these cases, I still responded in a *WHOA!* instead of *YAWN* way.

    And I totally approve of "sense-making-ization" being added to the dictionary. ;)

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  4. I like a little bit of predictability in my books, but I love a heap of unpredictableness too. Sometimes the best part of a book is working out what's going to happen next. You can generally be assured that everything's going to be fine at the end, but it's what happens in the middle, the journey with it's twists and turns that I really enjoy. The end is just the wrap up, not the whole story.

    I really enjoyed this post.

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  5. Thanks for the comment guys! I love your point about having a sense of doubt, Heather. YAY making up words! :D

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  6. Unpredictable plots are fantastic. If a book surprises me (really surprises me I mean) then it usually jumps onto my list of 5-star rated books rather quickly. But you're right--the twist can't come out of thin air, it has to make sense with the plot, otherwise it just feels like a cheat.

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  7. The unpredictable stuff really does work best when it makes sense with the story, for example when it comes out of who a character is. I remember literally falling to the floor and yelling "NOOOO!" at my TV screen during at the season finale of one particular show because of one character's actions (the whoooole season was building up to this moment and I was so primed and ready for this character to make the right choice)...but then it made perfect sense that he made the wrong choice because of his back story.

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  8. I feel ya, Ava! Cacy, AHH! Was this Zuko in Avatar the Last Airbender, by any chance? If not, it reminds me of his totally unpredictable yet awesome story. :D :D :D

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Item Reviewed: 1 Key to Writing Unpredictabl-Whoa, I Can't Believe That Just Happened! Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Emilia Plater