Jan 08 2016

Master the Element of Surprise (What I Learned Writing Darkness Eternal: Refuge Inc.)




Want to turn a dull story into an exciting one? Want readers to talk about your story long after reading it? Surprise them. Plot twists and surprise endings are just some of the components that make up great fiction. Following are some tips you can apply to master the element of surprise in your story.


Today, I’m excited to welcome you to the first installment in a weekly blog series featuring important writing lessons I learned in the past year and a half while writing the latest book in my post-apocalyptic/dystopian Refuge Inc. series, Darkness Eternal, which will release March 1st! You can claim your copy now at a special preorder discount. Surprises are a huge component of the Refuge Inc. series. It’s one of the things that make the stories fun to write.


In stories, plot twists create interest and give readers something to talk about. Most popular and highly praised stories contain at least one plot twist or surprise within their pages. Planting surprises inside a story has become second nature in storytelling, and writers who seek support on mastering the element of surprise should read on.

Examples of surprises:

A surprise is a plot element written to keep a story interesting and to add suspense by putting the characters in a surprising situation.

Examples include:

  • Reveal a secret
  • Make your protagonist fail
  • Close an escape route
  • Turn an enemy into an ally
  • Turn an ally into an enemy
  • Kill a character

Examples of plot twists:

A plot twist is when something happens within the plot that changes the direction of the story in a way no one saw coming. Or an event that twists the story to provide an entirely different perspective of events than was anticipated. To accomplish this, write your story in a way that makes the reader believe one thing, and then twist it to reveal the truth.

Popular examples (from film) include:

(*Psst. The links contain spoilers.)

  • The famous twist ending of the 1999 horror-thriller The Sixth Sense from M. Night Shyamalan, who’s well-known for adding plot twists in most of his work.
  • The popular twist ending of the science fiction film Planet of the Apes (1968).
  • The big reveal at the end of the science fiction/dystopian cult classic Soylent Green (1973).

In each of these films, the reveal changes everything we knew up until the huge twist. So how do you create something similar within your story?

1. Avoid clichés and stereotypes

Clichés and stereotypes fall under the tier of predictability, and predictability is the last thing you want when trying to surprise your readers or create a juicy plot twist. Sure, tropes and themes are expected by readers, but can backfire when overused. Anything predictable, expected, or foreseen should be avoided like … the plague (see what I did there?).

Sometimes allowing realism to steer your twists, turns, and surprises can provide for some highly praised originality if you do it right by fitting it within your story’s world and rules. However, I caution about providing too much realism in fiction, since most readers tend to read to escape reality. However, making your twists believable without relying on familiarity or overdone scenarios is key to an enjoyable surprise.

Examples of clichés and stereotypes to avoid:

  • Falling in love based on looks
  • Nightmares and prophecies revealed to be true predictions all along
  • The protagonist turns out to be the culprit
  • It was all a dream
  • Female’s nausea turns out to be pregnancy
  • The blonde, busty, bimbo
  • The geeky, glasses-wearing nerd who’s an expert in physics and Star Wars
  • An everyday man finds the bomb, discovers who planted it, and diffuses it with only seconds to spare

 2. Foreshadow

Foreshadowing is essential for the reveal of your plot twist or surprise ending. By planting evidence early in your story, you avoid using convenience and coincidence as a plot device.

If your character is going to die by the blade of a sword in the final scene of your story, make sure you introduced the sword somewhere in the preceding scenes. In this example of foreshadowing, your character’s surprise death can still be unexpected without seeming out of place.

If your magical fairy gets trapped inside a rotting tree trunk in chapter ten, make sure readers are aware of her portal producing abilities in an earlier chapter. Maybe she didn’t know the consequences of using her power or she still needed to iron out the kinks, but she definitely knew producing portals was in her arsenal. Suddenly discovering this power ten minutes after being barricaded will not fly for your readers, and will thwart your plan of creating an effective surprise or twist.

The best twists are the ones where you look back over the story and kick yourself in the butt because you should have seen it coming but didn’t.

3. Dig deep for originality

The only way to be original is to forgo borrowing plots and genre tropes and write the story only you can write. That means digging deep within your emotions and experiences, and putting your findings on the page. No one can bring it quite like you. Embrace your uniqueness, take chances often, and create from your heart.

Now it’s your turn. Do you have tips on mastering the element of surprise? Speak your mind in the comments!


Posts in the “What I Learned Writing Darkness Eternal: Refuge Inc.” series:

Part 1: Master the Element of Surprise

Part 2: Hook Your Readers 5 Ways

Part 3: Understanding Theme

Part 4: Establish an Emotional Connection Using Deep POV

[image credit: Damian Gadal]

About the author

Leslie Lee Sanders

Leslie is a publishing Industry blogger, freelance writer and an author of over a dozen erotic romance & thriller titles. She self-published over two dozen works of fiction since 2004. Her blog was a finalist in the first annual Goodreads Independent Book Blogger Awards in 2012, and her story Benefits of Sharing is a finalist for the 2013 EPIC Award in the short story category. Her work has been included in the following Writer’s Market books: 2016 & 2017 Writer’s Market, 2016 & 2017 Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market, and the 2014 & 2015 editions of Guide to Self-Publishing. As well as online blogs like Be a Freelance Blogger. She resides in Arizona with her husband and 3 daughters.


2 pings

  1. Yvette

    Love this, and shared it in Instagram and twitter!

    1. Leslie Lee Sanders

      Thank you. Glad you found it helpful! And thanks for spreading the word. :)

  1. Understanding Theme (What I Learned Writing Darkness Eternal: Refuge Inc.) | Leslie Lee Sanders

    […] Part 1. Mastering the Element of Surprise […]

  2. Hook Your Readers 5 Ways (What I Learned Writing Darkness Eternal: Refuge Inc.) | Leslie Lee Sanders

    […] « Master the Element of Surprise (What I Learned Writing Darkness Eternal: Refuge Inc.) […]

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