Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Which Side Are You On?

"I have found that a story leaves a deeper impression when it is impossible to tell which side the author is on."
 ~ Leo Tolstoy


I remember  worrying as I read the last few Harry Potters, wondering who Rowling was going to kill.  No one felt safe. After Dumbledore's death, I believed Rowling was capable of killing anyone - even Harry.  I fretted about Hagrid, about Ron and Hermione, about Luna and Neville and Lupin...I was both eager to know what would happen next and terrified of what it might be. 

THAT is powerful storytelling.

We need to remember to allow ourselves to be unpredictable as authors - to do the unexpected. What could you do in your story that would be so unexpected the reader no longer trusts you to keep your MCs safe?  To let your MCs be happy or healthy or loved?  Bold writing, risk taking, makes for a more emotional read..

As you write today, do something unpredictable.

39 comments:

Laurel Garver said...

Ah, but the trick is to get your reader to trust that you make characters unsafe for a reason. I really hate it when authors throw in chaos and hurt people as a simple plot device. Rowling communicates somthing important by making the strongest vulnerable. Every unpredicatible action should have a thematic purpose, such as shaking up your reader's reliance on reliance on received wisdom and cliche and making them see anew.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Yes, Laurel! Well said! :-)

Les Edgerton said...

Good question, Shannon! That's related to an issue that regularly comes up with my writing students, when I'll suggest a plot turn to them and they sometimes say, "But, my character would never do that! It's against his nature/personality." And, that's what's hard to get across to them sometimes. That the author should have his protagonist act out of character! That's what makes him actually "real." And gives us those delicious surprises and turns that we love in good books. A character that always acts according to the personality we've created for him/her usually ends up as one so predictable he or she becomes... that dreaded thing... boring. (In novels, "boring" is often a synonym for "predictable."

Shari said...

Excellent thought! Hmmm . . . what can I do to them today? Mwa ha ha ha ha ha

Julie said...

Wow! What a fun thing to ponder! I think my loyalties are too clear, come to think of it... might have to do something about that. :)

Laura Marcella said...

I know exactly what you mean about the HP books! After the death in book 4, I felt the same as you throughout books 5, 6 and 7.

I'm always brainstorming ways to be more unpredictable. I tend to fall into the predictability trap, so I ask lots of questions to make the story/scenes veer in new, unexpected directions.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

That is a fabulous quote and good tip for the toolbox. Thanks!

Tere Kirkland said...

This is wonderful advice, and great timing, since my writing has been feeling pretty predictable lately.

Perfect example, too.

Thanks, Shannon!

Heather said...

This is golden advice! You're absolutely right, not knowing who, if anyone, was going to die really ratcheted up the tension. I'm going to try and do something unpredictable in my writing!

NiaRaie said...

I think author Jodi Picoult does a good job of that in her novels, which must be hard since they're typically controversial. I never know her true opinion, which I think is a good sign of writing--the ability to appear unbiased as an author and let your characters speak. But you're right about Rowling, she had me confused about Snape all the way until the end!

Jules said...

Very good point and if I write from life that is exactly what it will be... unpredictable! ;)
Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

The Golden Eagle said...

Excellent point! And I love the quote.

Lenny Lee* said...

hi miss shannon! wow that a cool post. i hate boring stuff and i love exciting stuff specially when i just cant know for sure whats gonna happen. for my writing i like making my mc get in big trouble where he could even get dead and then get out of it in a way you didnt ever think of. for sure thats not boring.
...hugs from lenny

L. T. Host said...

Great post, and great comments, too. I've got a lot to think about today!

Vicki Rocho said...

I cried at Dumbledore. Way to yank the rug out from under me, JK!

Good question though...what can I do to twist things up so y'all don't know what's coming. hmmmmm.

Susan R. Mills said...

Great post! Unpredictable is definitely good.

Kimberly Franklin said...

This is so true! I've been thinking a lot about that lately--being unpredictable is very important in storytelling, in some ways. And yes, JK Rowling is an extremely powerful story teller!

Carolyn V. said...

I think that's why I loved those books so much! They were unpredictable. I hope I can do that in my writing. =)

Heidi Willis said...

a marvelous reminder!

Angela Felsted said...

Unpredictable, but not in way that's completely out of character for your characters.

Shannon Whitney Messenger said...

I LOVE this, #2. I try very hard to be unpredictable with my stories, and my CPs have been surprised by certain twists. But I guess we'll have to wait and see what people think if it becomes published. :)

Jennie Englund said...

Oh my gosh, Shannon!

This is exactly what I needed to hear today!

There's this trick to writing unpredictably: make a list of 10 possibilites, and pick the last one.

Elana Johnson said...

This is pure brilliance. Great advice, and I remember feeling the same way in HP. Now, to apply it to my own writing... Hmm... much harder.

Old Kitty said...

Yay!! thanks for a great post!! It's good to be reminded to be bold and daring and to just take chances cos your writing will only benefit!! Take care
x

welcome to my world of poetry said...

Enjoyed the read, perhaps you have convinced me to see one of his films.

Yvonne.

Diane said...

Good writing prompt! Live a little dangerously.... :O)

Catherine Denton said...

I just finished Mockingjay and felt this exact thing about it. I worried about the main characters and the author kept it unpredictable. These are great thoughts!

Jemi Fraser said...

I tend to be a bit of a wimp - off to try something new... :)

Pk Hrezo said...

Yeah, I was pretty much shell shocked when Dumbledore died. What a great example of pushing the envelope. It's even fun sometimes. :)

Shannon said...

Great post, Shannon! I agree, we have to be able to let go and let the story go where it needs to go.

Rayna M. Iyer said...

So true about JKR killing DD. After that, you could not be sure of anything at all.

I remember standing in the queue to pick up the book, and a lot of people on getting their books, turned to the last page to see if Harry was alive or not.

Now that is suspense.

Susan Fields said...

You're so right! It's not very suspenseful if you don't think the author will let anything really bad happen. It's much more exciting when you truly believe something really bad might be just around the bend. Great post!

Solvang Sherrie said...

What a great post! My son complained about this in a book he read not long ago because the author never let anything bad happen to the main characters so it didn't feel real to him. Good thing to remember as we write.

VR Barkowski said...

Agreed, but at the same time be prepared to have an agent or editor tell you to change the unpredictable into something more prosaic and acceptable to your readership regardless of thematic or story integrity.

Michelle said...

Great point. I often gasp and write something completely unplotted.... trying to keep it a little unpredictable

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Shannon .. love the Tolstoy quote .. and your explanation & Laurel's additional comment .. boring = not allowed! Thanks - Hilary

Patti said...

It really is about getting outside of your comfort zone and just writing the story.

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

Amen Leo. I could not agree more :)

Julie Hedlund said...

So true! Not to mention the fact that when I read them the first time around, I never could figure out whether Snape was a good guy or a bad guy until the very end, which was awesome. Magnifies the intensity of the reading experience all the way around.

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