Friday, April 2, 2010


Yes, the Easter egg mania seems to have gotten to me too, at least from the title. (My apologies for that.)

I was thinking a little about reader expectations as I watched Bones last night. Dr. Sweets rode on the subway next to a young man who received a text message telling him he'd just won his long battle with cancer. He bubbled over, exciting Dr. Sweets, a stranger to him, with the good news. The young man fantasized of all he planned to do with his new-found life. He was overjoyed. Dr. Sweets was overjoyed. People at home watching were overjoyed. I turned to my husband. "He will be dead within minutes." And sure enough.

All his expectations were dashed, along with his cranium. Sad, huh? Why would they do that to the viewer?

The writers certainly could have composed the scene so we knew less about the man, thus shielding us a little from the pain of his death. The plot would have moved on just as well. But...

Something special happens when you take a character, get the reader (or viewer) rooting for him, and then dash his hopes into smithereens. You make the reader care more deeply about what happens. You pull him in. Now this doesn't always involve killing someone--except maybe in Bones.

But say you have a bride, a young woman deeply in love, fulfilling her fondest wish as she walks down the aisle. Leave her at the altar.

Or shipwreck survivors waiting on a deserted island. On the horizon is a boat. Sink it.

That woman on an important date? Find new ways to embarrass her.

Or that crop that is in the fields. The one that will pay for Laura'a new shoes and get the family out of debt. Add a swarm of locusts.

Build expectations. Dash them. Rinse. Repeat.

Figure out the best thing that could happen to the character. Hang it just out of reach. Determine the worst thing that could happen to a character at any given moment. Make it so.

Yes, I think we need to give the characters moments of happiness in between, allow those moments to let the reader have a breath of fresh air--give them hope that all will be well. Add some humor, some heartwarming moments. But don't let them stay there too long.

Writers tend to like their characters and want good things to happen to them. We want to smooth out their lives and allow them some happiness, as if they were real people. And that would be great, but that's not going to make others care about them. We need to save the happy endings for the end.

What are some of the ways you've been drawn in by seeing a character's expectations dashed?


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  2. Hi Barbara--

    Just jumping on as a "follower"--thank you for becoming one on Am His books! Will return more often. (wish I could be more consistent with my blogging!) Blessings....

  3. p.s.--Sorry, Barb! It would have been nice if I'd commented on the excellent blog about expectations--beautifully done!