Blog #24 by novelist Jeremy Logan -- Mystery and Suspense - When Reading Becomes Entertainment
Most reading motivation can be distilled down to two things: Education and Entertainment. The education part is pretty obvious. The entertainment part, now that's where creativity is found. When you drill down to what makes most stories entertaining, almost all have to have an element of mystery or suspense. We love to be surprised. The hard part is imagining a surprising ending, and then creating a story that will keep the reader fascinated until he discovers the surprise.
Here's the crazy part of this, if you live a long and eventful life you don't have to make them up, you just have to remember them. Granted, not all unexpected conclusions make a novel worth writing. Some have to be propped up by changing some of the actual parts to ones that are more suspenseful or mysterious.
One of the easy ones I remember is a story I heard on the television news that two young adults, sisters that were orphaned as infants and separately adopted were reunited by happenstance. It was nice heart-warming story, but not novel-worthy. However, all you have to do is change a few of the elements to make it a best seller. Just add a pinch of imagination. Of course, you can't tell the reader anything about their beginnings.
Instead of them being sisters, let's make them an older brother and sister. Can you imagine a drama and surprise ending now? Maybe it will become clearer when they meet, not knowing their pasts. Next, they are attracted to each other. Still not there yet? How about this: they become intimate and begin to share their lives and their histories.
So you think you know the ending? You don't. Why, because you can see the obvious conclusion too early. And here is where the imagination really kicks in. The boy knows he's adopted, but not the girl. Her parents kept it from her. It's until they are married that the girl's mother passes away. Her father is so distraught that the daughter must help him make the final plans for the mother. Going through her personal effects she comes across the adoption records.
The daughter tells her husband. They both decide to help the other research their beginnings to find their real parents. It's not until the second history is revealed that you have the surprise ending. Still too obvious, you say. Okay let's add another element.
While at the courthouse in their parent's home town, the old record clerk has been observing their discovery and distress. He approaches. They tell him their story. He says, "Don't fret, my dears. Your parents had just adopted their son month's before their accident. Son, your father was my next-door neighbor and my best friend. The boy they adopted was my son. I'm your father."
So there you have it. But you had to add several twists and turns before the story becomes a compelling drama with a sudden surprise ending. I emphasized the word sudden, because that is key to making the story worth telling. Their has to be a final, sudden surprise or all is not worth the paper it's written on.
Now, don't you go off trying to steal this plot for your next novel. I thought of it first.