Surprise! Add twists to your writing, keep readers hooked


Christmas is nearly upon us and like millions of holiday revelers I have been wrapping gifts and tucking them away in a mostly-forgotten closet.

(Flickr: meddygarnet)

(Flickr: meddygarnet)

Of my three children, my daughter has always been the most curious and so I have had to spend more time than I should have to divining new hiding places.

Despite my efforts, the child long-ago figured out that she could bypass the covert packages and simply scan the receipts collecting in my purse. So, yeah. She’s too smart for her own good.

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Still, I engage this quiet little battle every year because I know that an important part of Christmas magic is the element of surprise. And I want her to experience this, even if she doesn’t agree.

Storytelling is much the same.

Of course there will be readers who absolutely cannot wait for the ending – jumping ahead in the book, flipping through pages and scanning paragraphs for the answers to their burning questions.

But, writers know best and we want our “customers” to experience the unexpected twists and turns of a can’t-put-it-down page-turner.

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Some genres of writing are more amenable to “bombshell” reveals. Author/blogger Elizabeth Spann Craig offers some great advice for mystery writers looking for some advice on how to deliver the goods here.

No matter the genre, the trick is to keep readers glued to the narrative and waiting patiently for a payoff.

Some things to consider:

–Sprinkle big surprises sparingly (about two or three) throughout the book. Too many and the magic is diminished.

–Strive for plausible but unpredictable revelations. Respect your readers by treating them to wholly unexpected and well thought-out turns.

–Settle on pacing that delivers the goods, but over a measured amount of time. Teeny twists will work now and then to build suspense and keep readers hooked.

–Steer clear of the run-of-the-mill, could-see-it-coming-a-mile-away surprises (e.g. finding a long-lost son who just lives down the street, lonely divorcee finds love at a tropical paradise resort.)

For anyone doubting the potential impact of surprise, just ask Beyonce. The singer this week shocked fans with an unannounced album release and made more than a million iTunes sales as a result.

For the record, I hide those receipts now. There is no trace of them, or any coupons, bags and boxes that would expose my secret purchases.


The only problem is I’ve gotten so good at hiding them that I often can’t find them before my husband does, who in turn gets the shock of his life when he sees the bills.

Surprises all around!

What story twists do you have planned for your readers?

Kerri S. Mabee is managing editor at Learn more about her at


Kerri S. Mabee

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