Great Un-Expectations

So I’m laying on the couch last night with my ice cold feet under my husband’s nice warm leg.  I’m pouting and plotting — the two are mutually exclusive — and running through a list of ideas for this very major revision I’m working on.

“I don’t know.  I think that if the agents had done a through search of the house, they would have found the false desk drawer, or the plastic bag in the toilet tank, or the secret compartment in the floor. All those ideas just seem so cliche to me.”

He nodded.

I was pretty sure he wasn’t listening, not that I really cared.  Sometimes I just like to talk my plot problems out.  “What about inside the family picture frame?  Is that cliche too?”

He nodded again, eyes focused on the football game (Go Texans!)

“Hmm.  Okay.  What about–“

“What if your character doesn’t find it at all?”

I sat up, shocked that he was listening and that this idea hadn’t occurred to me.  “But, she needs the information.”

“It’s too easy,” he said, and finally turned to look at me.  “In movies and books, the character always finds exactly what they need in the moment they need it.  I think it’s a bigger challenge that she has to find a different way to get what she needs.”

“Yeah, but the reader will expect for her to get what she’s looking for.”

He shrugged.  “It’s better if you don’t give them what they expect.”

Guys, I married a very, very smart man.  He hit on two things I’ve heard Donald Maass preach on twitter a time or two:
  1. Put your characters in tough situations, and then make it harder.
  2. Push toward what is unexpected and counter-intuitive.
Now I shall go and apply these tips to my project.  Good luck on yours!!

Also, wear socks. It’s getting cold out there!


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