Believable Surprises

One of the first things that will make me stop reading a book is disbelief. Now, I realize that in reading you must suspend your disbelief and all that fancy jargon, but what I don’t have to suspend, and what I shouldn’t suspend, is my B.S.-o-meter. B.S. stands for Believable Surprises, by the way. (And I really really really wish I had done that on purpose.)

Believable surprises are those events that occur where you as the reader say, “Oh, I totally didn’t see that coming, but now that it’s happened, it totally makes sense.” It’s when your characters make decisions that aren’t predictable, but are still within character. Nothing will get me to shut a book faster than characters who don’t have a developed personality that informs their actions.

Maybe your character is a daredevil. Maybe they live life on the edge and are willing to take risks and do whatever it takes. Okay, but if that’s the case, there better be some realistic repercussions for their attitude. And on the topic of realistic, you can’t tell me that this character has never learned to curb their attitude under any circumstance? Yup, that ringing sound in the background is my B.S.-o-meter going crazy.

I mean, even Deadpool isn’t like that and he’s probably the most I-do-what-I-want-when-I-want character there is.

When you’re writing, take care that your character stays believable. He/she can change of course, but that rarely happens overnight.

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The best way to achieve that surprise for both you and the reader is to create a well-rounded character that is capable of making decisions that continually enhance aspects of their already developed personality. Sounds like a handful, but I know you’re up to the challenge!

Who’s your favorite character when it comes to believable surprises?

~Liz

Follow me @wethewriters on Instagram and @liz_tampa on Twitter.

4 thoughts on “Believable Surprises”

  1. Hey! This is great! I have a question though: in your opinion, how do you write a character who you want to do something wildly out of character? Do you think there needs to be a build up or that they have to deteriorate somehow before the reader will believe they’d act so our of character? I ask because I write realistic fiction and in real life, sometimes people don’t make any sense haha. How do you convey that in fiction?

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    1. Hey! Great question! I think the key here would be to at least give a taste that the character’s seemingly out of character response could actually be possible. So maybe it could be a short series of events throughout the story that show their deteriorating patience that leads to the inevitable breakdown or some sort of quick backstory that explains the behavior. I just read THE MAGICIAN’S LAND by Lev Grossman, and one of the usually emotionally guarded characters finally showed her vulnerable side. But there was a legitimate cause for her reveal. They had just narrowly escaped death and the backstory she tells fills some plot holes as well as fits into her usually guarded personality. Essentially, while on her own, she experienced a series of events that broke past her walls and allowed her to be vulnerable. So when the time came in the story for her to share this with a friend, it wasn’t unrealistic at all. It even helped that the characters acknowledged how strange it all was that she was letting her guard down.

      I hope that makes sense!! I think the most important thing, if your character does something out of character, is to either acknowledge somehow that it’s a little different or give them a good reason for whatever it is they do.

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      1. Ah, interesting! Yeah, that does make sense. Thank you! I’ll have to check out that book. I like to play around with characters acting out of character (haha) since I’m fascinated by the idea that people just “crack” or up and walk away. I like to examine the repercussions of that for the remaining characters. It makes sense that even if we, the reader, don’t see it right away, there’d always be some kind of instigating factor for the new behavior of the character. I like that idea a lot actually. Thank you!

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  2. Hey, I totally posted another comment but I just realized it didn’t send 😦 I wanted to tell you that I love your idea! I can totally see it as a series of short stories where every story builds upon the last, effecting people further and further from the initial event.

    Good luck with your writing 🙂

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