Tag Archives | how to surprise your reader

Questions to ask to surprise your reader.


I love being surprised when I read. And it’s that surprise element that keeps me turning pages. The surprise could be in the form of tension, humor, character development, dialogue, plot points…you name it. As soon as a story turns predictable and dull to me – that’s when I put it down or skim.

  1. Is your story premise unique and fresh? As writers we hear those words all the time. Whether your story involves angels, vampires, ghosts or just a plain old 4th grade boy, push beyond the first idea. Change it up. Make it different. A unique story idea gets noticed.
  2. Are your plot points/turning points the first idea that came to mind?  Try listing 10-15 different ideas. Dig deep. Then decide if your first idea was really your best.
  3. Is your ending predictable?  Again, try listing ideas.You don’t want your ending predictable but you don’t want it so far out there that no one believes it. Remember balancing and foreshadowing.
  4. Does your story have a major reveal or plot twist half way through? A well-designed plot twist that changes the course of a character’s journey always sparks my interest in finishing. And it prevents the dreaded sagging middle.
  5. Are your scenes falling into a predictable pattern? Or…a little boring? Make sure your main character has a goal each scene. Surprise the reader in how his goal is thwarted and how your main character reacts.
  6. Are your characters predictable? It’s okay for your characters to act out of character. I sure don’t act the same way all the time. Give the shy girl a moment where she gets mad and yells. Give the selfish/mean character a moment of mercy and compassion. In other words, add depth to your characters.
  7. Can you make the challenges and obstacles your characters face more unique to your story?  Go back to making a list. Sometimes what we think is bad, just isn’t bad enough.
  8. How would you rate your details on a scale from vague to specific? Fun and unique details about a character or the setting immediately draws me into the story. Surprise the reader. Go past the typical.
  9. How about sentence structure and paragraph length? Long sentences, short and powerful sentences – mix it up. Don’t always start your sentences with a phrase, or an -ing word, or the character’s name. Have short paragraph and long paragraphs.
  10. What about word choice? I love reading unique similes that pertain to the story. I love reading strong verbs that evoke a mental image. I love nouns and verbs that help set the mood. Cutting the deadwood from your sentences will be a delight to your readers’ eyes.

This recent post on Guide to Literary Agents blog is exactly what I’m talking about.

I loved this unique story premise presented in a query on the Caren Johnson Literary blog.

Donald Maass in Writing the Breakout Novel covers the topic of breaking out past the typical. He talks about larger than life characters and character turnabouts and suprises. Worth reading.

Join in. Add your tips in the comments on how to surprise your reader.

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