Sunday, October 30, 2011
Trick or Treat! The Twists and Turns of the Big Surprise!
The ‘Boo!’ I’m behind the door ending or the ‘gotcha’ moment can be great, but only if it’s well done. If it’s contrived or feels fake in any way, you’ve lost the element of surprise or diluted it so much that you probably shouldn’t have bothered. A good surprise is often one the reader did not see coming because of misdirection and because of false clues the author planted in a logical, progressive sequence.
For me, I always prefer to surprise. I like twists and turns, I like the tricks because they always turn out to be treats. When you think the book is about one thing, but it really turns out to be about another completely different thing, that’s what makes me want to read more by that particular author. When I first became interested in writing, I loved the clever puzzles of Agatha Christie and the suspenseful menace of Mary Roberts Rinehart. Rinehart wrote sixty novels and was the favorite of American presidents. Crime fascinated her. An editor once said that the key to publishing success was sex and murder. She, like other famous mystery and suspense writers did the ‘clue striptease.’ They revealed only a little at a time. I also enjoyed reading the stories of the English writer Alistair MacLean. In one of his famous stories “The Satan Bug,” you thought the villain had stolen a deadly virus merely to terrorize the English populace. But in reality, the villain only used the virus as a threat to empty the entire city of London so he could steal its most precious treasures. Surprise! This is what got me! The trick won me over and made me a fan of surprise endings for life. If I’ve surprised the reader and made him gasp (in a good way), I feel I’ve done my job.
What’s your favorite trick, your most devilish surprise ending? Fatal Attraction, when Glenn Close playing Alex Forrest shows up at the end to torment poor Anne Archer one more time and then Anne Archer shoots her or…BOO!
Next week: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy--What is Your Favorite Type of Romantic Hero to Read or Write About?