DON'T GIVE THEM WHAT THEY WANT!A Lesson by Domenic Luciani
you're probably asking yourself, 'what?' read on.
You may be thinking to yourself, 'but I've heard you're supposed to give the people what they want?'
In acting, in restaurants, in theme parks, yes. In writing? No. Have you ever read a book that went exactly as you hoped it would; all the male characters ended up in great relationships with their female counterparts, the antagonist got shut down and will never be seen again, and the great curtain of darkness that had fallen over the world during the 'bad' time has suddenly lifted and all is right with the world? You might have, but was it fantastic book worthy of rememberance? Again, no. There was once a book that ended with 'and they lived happily ever after' once upon a time, but there hasn't been a professionally published book with that ending since that first one. Why'? People hate it when they get what they want (in literature). If you can predict exactly who the main character falls in love with, or who the secret antagonist is within the first chapter AND BE RIGHT, are you happy? No, you're not.
You're terribly disappointed because everything turned out exactly how you thought it would. That's what's known as predictability, something C.S. Lewis would have kicked your a*s for being.
Readers crave that moment of fear where the main character does something completely unexpected, or kills someone on accident, or, or, etc . . . They LOVE that. They might be a little pissed at first if they're really emotional, but once they get over it, they'll realize how genius killing off that character actually was.
Make the reader assume something. What this means is go for something that might seem completely obvious, like "Bob was flirting with the girl from 6B down the hall from his apartment" The reader might assume that Bob is going to ask this chick out or something vaguely romantic will happen (or maybe he'll get shut down and take the walk of shame back to his apartment). The reader will expect this because they think they know your main character like the back of their hands. He's pretty confident, decently good looking, she's no bombshell, but they would make a nice couple. By now the reader is halfway off their chair to head into the kitchen for a snack because they're pretty sure what's about to happen next. HOWEVER! The girls murderous ex-boyfriend breaks through the window brandishing a pistol and waving it around at the both of them. The reader didn't see this coming. They are reinvigorated over your work because something unexpected happened. Bob will not end up with the girl, and possibly not back at his apartment. In fact, he might even die . . . Now the reader cares, Now if the reader wants a snack, they'll have to take the book with them.
Imply something. Readers love when you do this and, in fact, it's not breaking the rule stated at the top. What I'm saying here is: don't tell them something is happening, just slide in some smooth jazzy details and let them work it out for themselves. This ususally works best at the beginning of a chapter. NOTE: readers like to feel smart, and this will make them feel smart without making them feel bored.
Begin the scene. You've already introduced the main character and by now the reader can recognize him, his actions, whatever. Don't explicitly state "Bob woke up, did that weird twitch thing he does with his neck, then left the house to do some yardwork." The reader yawns. 'Okay, we got it', he says rolling his eyes. This has made the character boring. Readers don't like boring. Try this: "The morning called the man awake. A spasm worked it's way through the muscles and tendons in his neck, making it look as if he was shivering. He looked at the clock, the figure shrouded in darkness, recognized the time and moved along with his daily routine."
You know this is Bob. You recognize that twitch in his neck because he's done it the past few chapters. The reader feels cool because they figured something out about you're book (even though it was meant to be figured out) and now they want to read on, just to make sure their predictions were correct. You'll probably hear an 'AHA!' at the end of that paragraph. NOTE: This does not conflict with the lesson because it is a literary device, not a plot thing.
Remember, readers hate it (in literature) when they get what they want. It is your job to be as unexpected as you can. Writing is like a maze. Nobody can enjoy a maze that goes in a straight line. Throw in some turns and dead ends. Keep them guessing.
Have fun, kids.
Questions/comments, you know what to do.
Added on September 30, 2010
Last Updated on October 1, 2010
AboutThat is my real name, and that is really me in the picture. Like Patrick says, I'm not in the witness protection program. I mostly write books and stories. I like fantasy, or fiction, but if..