Monday, February 06, 2012

Unpredictable stories

Last week, I talked about how to make stories unpredictable.  This week, I want to talk about some stories that did it right and really surprised me.  I didn't warn you last time, but this time, you should know that there will be spoilers.  So let's include some spoiler space.

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What I'm going to be talking about are short stories that really surprised me, moving away from the predictable to something different.  Like most things, your mileage may vary, but here are some short stories that surprised me, and why:

Saviors - This one's twist probably should have been easy to see coming, but I didn't see it at all.  Why? Because it so violated the cultural norm, was so far out of what's acceptable, that it wasn't obvious to my normal way of thinking.  (Don't think that this story's twist hasn't been done.  It has.  However, it still hasn't lost its ability to shock, especially when you don't expect a character to accept it easily.)

Cold cuts - This one surprised me by leading me to think that the choices were different than they actually were.  It was in essence a third way story, where the choices you see aren't the only ones.  The fact that the other choice was particularly gruesome helped to make it unexpected.  Of course, there were some deceptive things done in the story, and I find those sorts of things annoying.  You shouldn't have to lie to surprise your readers.

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Monkey - This one used an unreliable narrator to make its twist.  But it wasn't really the reliability of the narrator that created the surprise, but the insanity.  Which just goes to show that crazy people are unpredictable.

I wanted to show various ways to make a story unpredictable, but I'm not sure I've succeeded.  All three of these stories actually had the same device, at root--shock.  People behaving in brutal ways, well outside the limits of what society accepts, which is what allowed them to surprise me, since I didn't think the authors would go there.  I may have only succeeded in proving that I'm a little naive.  I'll try to come up with other examples next time.

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