Today I want to talk about when a story builds some expectations and then dashes them, and what effect that has on the reader. But first, some self-promotion. My publisher, TM Publishing, is having a Kickstarter campaign for their magazine. It started this morning. I mention this because 1) they're my publisher, and 2) the Advanced Reader Copy (signed) of my book The Shifting is one of the pledge prizes, starting at a pledge of $25. Here's the blurb about my book:
In a world where magical ability has become a science, Sarah Flinn and
Thomas Carter are outcasts. But when a friend casts a spell that brings
the human world into a dangerous collision with another, all three of
them must journey across a wilder, more magical America than they have
ever known -- to save two worlds from dying.
So, if you want a signed copy of my work, back TM Publishing. Click here to go the campaign page.
Also, I didn't mention in my last post some details about my friend Alyssa's book. You can download the ebook Lunula from Amazon here. It's free, so you should definitely check it out and see if it's something you're interested in. Here's the summary:
The witch knows he will hunt her.
If history repeats itself, as
it always does, Wynn will have no choice but to cross paths with her
feared counterpart, the warlock. If given the chance, he would kill
Wynn, absorbing her aura and obtaining ultimate power. In a desperate
attempt to outrun destiny, Wynn moves from place to place, hoping to
stray from the map laid out by the Fates. But by chance, on an urgent
errand for Queen Alexandria herself, Wynn finds she has fallen into the
hands of the one man she so hopelessly fled from. Now his captive, Wynn
must guard her secret and that of her kingdom, or risk bringing forth a
dark age not seen in hundreds of years.
Now onto the topic: dashed expectations. When a story, especially a long one, begins, it sets up certain expectations in the reader. Sometimes this is by genre, like a heroic tale generally ends with the hero winning and going home. Think about this with fairy tales: when the hero has tried something twice and is going on his third try, you know he's going to succeed. Action movies do the same: we know from the start that there's going to be a lot of chase scenes and destruction, people will die, and then the action hero dominates everyone. We expect a specific kind of ending, specific tropes, based on the story we're reading. So, what happens when those expectations are dashed?
What I mean here is, what happens to the reader when the writer breaks the traditional stereotype for her genre? I have a professor who loves this, and thinks it gives the story a newness, a freshness, that the genre needs. I can see his point of view. If you are surprised by the ending, it could be a favorable thing. Sometimes the typical ending doesn't work. The anecdote story I posted was one of those; nothing I put in the bottles would be as satisfying to the reader as nothing. And, sometimes the hero doesn't come back, and the fairy tale is a fractured one and needs seventeen tries to make it work. I kind of like the idea of an action movie where the hero is totally inept (and I think it's been made). Doing this adds something new to the story, when the story is lacking something.
But then again, sometimes the story does call for the traditional ending, and when that happens, dashing expectations frustrates the reader. Imagine Lord of the Rings, but the Ring isn't destroyed and Sauron wins. That would tick me off, because I know that in high fantasy genre goods triumph over evil, and I expect that when I pick up the book. To not see it would make me feel cheated. Another example would be a mystery book where the detective ends up shrugging his shoulders and saying, "I guess we'll never know whodunnit." And meaning it, not just lying to one of the other characters. Readers read mysteries to find out who the culprit is. I think I would throw the book across the room if I read it and came to that ending. It's almost as bad as, "Then she woke up and it was all a dream."
My overarching writing philosophy comes into play here: do what is necessary for the story. If you want to twist things to add humor or a new side to a old, tired genre, then dash those expectations. The readers will thank you for it. They don't care all that much that you follow the same old pattern. But there are some expectations that need to be honored because they're the driving reason some people have for picking up the book. See mystery story example above. And most of all, have fun being creative.