Let’s Talk Story, Part 4 – Unpredictability, continued

Last time we looked at creating unpredictable characters. Another common method to produce a story that surprises is to include plot twists. These are unexpected events that take a story in a different direction than the reader was anticipating.

Boy confronts bully, only to learn that his opponent is the prince of the land and the best fighter around. Instead of hating the prince, who spares his life, the boy ends up rescuing him soon thereafter. His reward? He’s taken from his apprenticeship to the royal physician, where he’s learning to use his forbidden magical abilities, to become the prince’s manservant.

Anything predictable in what I’ve sketched out? The story is actually very familiar. What I’ve explained is the opening of a new TV program called Merlin.

Yep, the prince is the one-day king of Camelot. And yet, the writers of the show, to keep the viewers from thinking they already know the story, have incorporated unpredictable elements into the plot. Arthur’s father has banned all magic from the kingdom. So how, we wonder, does all this change so that Merlin will one day become Arthur’s closest adviser?

Notice the curiosity that one unpredictable element creates.

But there are a few things to remember when incorporating unpredictability into a plot.

First, the events must be foreshadowed appropriately and motivated properly. Arthur’s father has good reason for banning magic. His concerns are legitimate. If his actions were capricious, either he would appear to be a villain, or the story would appear to be nonsensical.

Which leads to the next point. Plot twists must seem realistic and logical. They can surprise the reader, but in the end, the reader should think the turn of events is reasonable.

Think about the new Star Trek movie. James Kirk goes from disgrace and rejection to captain of the flagship of the fleet. Viewers familiar with the original TV show know Kirk becomes captain, but how did he wind up disgraced and rejected? And how did he turn his circumstances around so completely?

Again, the twist creates curiosity even in a familiar story.

Unpredictable characters, plot twists. These elements make a story one the reader will dive into because he wants to know what happens next.

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