Monday, January 9, 2017

Gasp!

One of my favorite books of 2016 was I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh. It was a great read for a number of reasons, one of which were the twists. But . . . I read a lot of books with twists. Why did this one stay with me? I couldn't put my finger on it until I read this post - "Surprise Me" by literary agent extraordinaire, Janet Reid, where she says:

"I want to gasp. I want to put the manuscript down and just enjoy that moment when the author turns the story upside down."

Yes! And that's exactly what happened to me when I read I Let You Go. I found myself scrabbling back through the pages to see what I missed. But you know what? I hadn't actually missed anything.  

Ms Reid explains it like this: "That's what surprise is: we had the info, but we didn't know what it meant. . . A good surprise makes perfect sense but you just didn't see it coming."

I want to do that for my readers, whether it's in the short form of a story or in the long form of a novel. I want them to have that moment, maybe even more than one. It's certainly something worth striving for, even if it is, as Ms. Reid says, ". . . really, really simple stuff . . . and hard as hell to carry off."

Is there a book that stays with you because of its twists and turns? How about a movie or TV show? Do you aim for that in your own writing? How do you achieve it? 

34 comments:

  1. Arrival had one of those moments and it was a biggie.
    We all wish we could capture that surprise moment. Closest I came was my last book.

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    1. I've got Arrival on my To Watch list! Looking forward to it.... :)

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  2. I try really hard to capture that surprise moment too, but I don't know if I'm there yet. Awesome writers make it look so easy.

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    1. They really do make it look easy! I've written "regular" twists before, but I'm not sure I've ever achieved the "gasp!" twist.

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  3. The closest I can think of is a video game that I can't remember the name of right now. The twist at the ending just blew my mind.

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    1. I never thought about this in relation to video games. Thanks for opening this fuddy-duddy's mind to the idea. :)

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  4. Hi Madeline,
    Thanks for this post. I agree that simple stuff is hard to pull off. The writing in some of the best books I've read seems effortless, but as I've grown as a writer I have learned how hard it is.
    I haven't read I Let You Go, but it sounds like an interesting book to add to my list. Thanks for the suggestion.

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    1. I think I admire the "effortless" writing even more now because I know how difficult it most likely was to get it like that. :)

      I would definitely check out I LET YOU GO. Mackintosh's next book comes out this spring - can't wait!

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  5. That's the real secret isn't it?

    Surprises are best when the clues are in front of you all the time.

    That's when I slap my head and say, why didn't I think of that? :)

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    1. I love that moment, both as a reader and as a writer. :)

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  6. Yes, I've read books like that and watched a few movies and TV shows. Sherlock did that to us with their first episode this season. Code Name Verity is a book that you'll never forget, ever.

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    1. I've been hearing a lot about that first episode of Sherlock....

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  7. I love reading or watching twists. Anything that makes my mouth hang open in shock is always entertaining. I haven't really written a "twist" exactly, but there is a bit of a surprising moment in my WIP that I really like.

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    1. Ms. Reid's whole post was interesting because she uses movie examples as well as talking a bit about what's not considered a twist.

      And good for you for having those surprising moments in your WiP. If you like them then your readers will probably like them, too.

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  8. I'm going to have to read this book. :) I love to read books that surprise me. I like to write them, too. ;)

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    1. I think you'll like it. I raved about it when I read it, and I even bought it for people as gifts. :)

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  9. The Sixth Sense had me reeling. That whole movie, I wanted Bruce Willis's character to reunite with his wife so badly and save their marriage. When I found out the truth, I was devastated. Couldn't even talk to people for a while.

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    1. Yes! I totally remember that movie, that moment when we find out the truth. Love when that sort of thing happens. Although, I am sorry you were devastated!

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  10. Fight Club, for me. Greatest twist ever. Book over film though.

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  11. Clare Mackintosh is an excellent writer and a great person too. I had the pleasure of spending a week with her at a writing retreat in France. Hope you enjoy her latest thriller! Happy New Year, Madeline!

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    1. I bet that was amazing! And I am so looking forward to her next book. :)

      Happy New Year to you, too!

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  12. There's a show/book series called Game of Thrones that makes me gasp quite often ;)
    I'm going to have to add this book to my list. Nothing better than a great twist.

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  13. I love those great twists and turns in novels, especially mysteries. I admire the writers who can do it so well. I'm adding this one to my TBR list.

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    1. Another good one is Megan Miranda's ALL THE MISSING GIRLS. She plays with the timing and the structure of the story so well.

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  14. I love twists, but they have to be done well, which is hard to do as you point out. I wish I could pull it off effectively in my own writing.

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    1. I might be able to think of the twist, to come up with the concept or the idea, but pulling it off? Not sure I'm there yet. :)

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  15. This happened to me with The Other Woman by Hank Phillippi Ryan. I looked back several times to figure out the twist and wondered how I'd overlooked the obvious. This is a skill I dream to emulate.

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    1. It really is a skill, isn't it? One that I hope can be learned with study and practice. :)

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  16. It's an amazing skill, and one that I need to work on having. I was slightly surprised by one or two twists in Claudia Gray's Lost Stars, which is one of the Star Wars books so, you can imagine, there's a lot of trope and familiarity there, but she managed to do a few things with the characters that I didn't expect.
    For real gasps though, I'm not sure I've had a lot of those in movies, shows, or books lately. I do like Gotham because they go to some unexpected places every once in a while, and the same goes for Black List - both are pretty dark shows and sometimes the "dark" gets expected after a while. Hmm.
    I'll have to find some books, like the one you've mentioned, to help me study big plot twists. :)

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    1. It's different to come across those kinds of twists as a reader then go back and study them as a writer. It's fun, though. :)

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