Never Let Them See You Coming

by | Mar 10, 2015 | on Writing | 0 comments

When do we usually have this moment when we are reading a story and, out of a sudden, we stop feeling what’s happening around us; we don’t hear our being called to dinner; we don’t notice it is already four o’clock in the morning and we have just failed to sleep early to wake up at six, just after two hours, which we eventually decide with no hesitation to spend reading and remember this crisis plan to sleep in the office or at school? What book were we reading? Who was the author? What was the story about? Well, at that moment, we usually concentrate on the actual things we were reading and nothing else.

What makes this specific piece of writing so attractive that make us carry the book along with us even when necessities come? Maybe, it is the charming style of the author, the perfectly woven plot, the extraordinary characters, the out-of-this-world setting, or a hundred other reasons. Well, indeed all of these are reasons to love a book so much that nothing can take it from us until we are done reading it. However, there is something common between all these features that make them even better.
We have always been interested in the unknown and that is why we care too much about the afterlife, which we would lose our interest in if anybody came back and told us what we could find in there. Being a little mysterious helps, but what really pushes our readers to get to this moment while reading our work is being unpredictable. Surprise them with the outcome of a situation, never let them see you coming for the moment our readers start to predict the paths we take, they will gradually lose their interest in what we wrote.
This first example is prose writing about a common situation in a thriller.

Jimmy heard a strange noise outside. He went out to investigate, but he was startled to find the door of his house wide open. He slowly stepped back to his room with his eyes searching the corners as he went. He entered the room and reached for his drawer where he kept his gun without turning on the light. He took his gun and moved towards the door of his bedroom to return back to the front door, only this time he was armed. As he took the first step outside his room…

Readers On-Guard:

… he heard the sound of quick footsteps running along the window. Jimmy didn’t wait to go down the stairs and outside the door. He jumped out of the window and when he stood up and looked, he saw the figure of a tall man running towards the grove. Jimmy ran as fast as he could to catch up with the tall man because he knew that it once in the depths of the grove, it would be too dangerous for him to continue his pursuit…


Well, this might be thrilling and exciting to read, but most readers could have predicted there would be this person trying to escape outside, the chase and everything and even though there is the question now whether Jimmy is going to catch up with the man and if there is going to be a gunfight or something, readers could have predicted all possible outcomes here. I would say this is good, but still we can make it better by being a little more innocuous and less likely to be spotted.

Readers Off-Guard:

…suddenly, the lights in the room were turned on and without thinking twice Jimmy turned around and started shooting right away as he knew he would have no time to look, aim, and then shoot. His shots hit nothing but air though there was a tall man standing right in front of him.


“I wouldn’t keep the real bullets inside. I knew you would shoot me,” the man said to the mesmerized shooter that was standing in front of him as if he had seen a ghost.


As the tall man was saying these words, a whiz sounded in the room breaking the glass of the bedroom window. Jimmy, who was still shocked at seeing the man, got down on the floor after he saw blood oozing from the man’s shirt. Looking at the man with sadness, Jimmy crawled away from the window to find some cover from the sniper….


This is more interesting than the first one because we have more surprises like the tall man being in the room already, the sniper shot and the feeling of sadness over the man, and this raises even more questions than in the first example. Before the readers get settled on a specific line of story, the writer quickly breaks it and leads them somewhere else and with losing this safety of their common sense and experience in stories, the readers get attached to the wires linked and moved by the author to find out what happens next. I think I will enjoy reading the second type more.

The second example is poetry writing for continuation of the common starting clause I love you.

I love you …

Readers On-Guard:

…like the sun that shines
And the stars that glow
Like a fairy tale hero
And you are my princess


The images of sun, star, fairy tale hero, princess are all predictable to describe love and even the way they are presented is predictable, so it is nice, but that’s it, nice.

Readers Off-Guard:

…like a poet
Tired of sailing the realm of imagination
To find a spot, to find some words
To describe how much he loves you,
But I failed as all my words
Are like some light rain
Trying to fill in the ocean.


The image of a poet is predictable, but the way it was used was different. And the image of the light rain trying to fill the ocean is quite new to describe the poet being lost for words, so this is a little more intriguing for readers to read.
I would like to conclude with what Robert Frost said in his famous poem The Road Not Taken:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.




Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Want More Like This Post?

Dialogue Techniques 01

Why should you learn dialogue techniques?One of the most important skills any writer needs in his or her toolbox is dialogue. Characters and critical parts of the plot are usually revealed by dialogue. However, the poor use of dialogue can be counter-effective and...

Spice Up Your Senses

Have you ever thought about your piece of writing as your favorite dish? How many senses do you engage in the process of consuming this favorite dish of yours? Your nose must catch the smell of it the moment you enter the house and then your eyes can see nothing else...

Bring life to Your Tree

What if we think of our writing as a tree? The idea itself sounds creative, doesn’t it? Then we can think of writing with or without branches, so it is not seen from only one perspective, with flowers on so it is beautiful, or with leaves so it is rich and alive; if...