Surprise revelations and the believable plot

So I’ve been enjoying the story Lycan Bloodline. The writer has taken a lot of care to introduce us to Bryce, a young boy who has to move to British Columbia, Canada to live with his father. Why? It turns out Bryce is a werewolf. And that’s where we take our pause.

I’ve read quite a few sci-fi/fantasy stories on Nifty, and of course I’ve written my own. The thing that bothers me above all else when reading these, is when the protagonist too easily gives in to the “surprise revelation”. So easy that the magic is lost, and you’re brought back to reality.

As this article says:

“When you come back to the story for its first revision, start to notice a few things. Does the story have the basic elements? Does it have a believable plot? What is the theme, or the point of the story? Are the characters real? How does the plot build to the point of tension wherein everything is resolved in the denouement? Is the conclusion satisfying? ”

Emily Gee tells us:

“Good characters are central to any story, no matter the word count. It is through them that your story will be told; their actions and reactions which will move the plot forward.”

When I consider a reaction to a surprise in my writing, I use what I call the average person test. What that means is, you need to consider how would the average person in society react to the news they were being given? Now realize, this only works if the character being given the surprise resembles your average person. If they don’t, then you have to modify the test.

So using Bryce as an example, we apply this test. He moves to B.C, a hot young 14 year old about to turn 15. He’s vegan, has violet eyes, and before he moved in with his father Ryan, had an average life. So for him we can easily apply the average person test. We know from general society that the average person would react bad to knowing that their relative is a werewolf, and that the protagonist as well is a werewolf.

So as we see near the end of Chapter 3 of Lycan Bloodline, Bryce reacts normally and the story even goes the extra step to show that Ryan, the father, anticipated Bryce’s reaction, and prepared an escape route for him. Why he did that, we haven’t yet been told, but it enhances the thought the author put into considering the characters of Bryce and Ryan.

Could the surprise revelation gone badly?

Yes. If the author had instead had Bryce hugging his Dad begging to be taken because his lust was uncontrollable, that would not be believable. Why not? Because adrenaline would kick in, and overpower any feelings of desire, etc.

If we look at the story Wolf’s Tail, we can see a horrible reaction that isn’t believable. Between chapters 2 & 3, the protagonist Tom learns from Bryce (whom in this story is an alpha werewolf) that Bryce is a werewolf, and that Tom is becoming one. The problem here is that instead of freaking out as normal person would, Tom simply continues to lust over Bryce.

When we apply the average person test, it fails. So the reader falls out of the magic of the story, and starts being in the real world. When the magic of the plot is broken, the story is soiled because the trance has been broken. When the reader looks at the story from a rational perspective, it doesn’t make sense anymore.

And then the reader looses interest and stops reading.

So how does that differ from Bella in Twilight?

Bella has no special powers and so forth, and for all reasonable purposes is an average person. Yet she takes the shock in stride and actually wants to become a vampire herself. For that we have to go back to the believable plot.

The people at about.com tell us a bit more about character conflict and change.

“Most stories involve some element of conflict and change — they’re part of what makes a story a story. Is your character passive or active? If someone confronts her, does she change the subject, head for the minibar, stalk off, or do a deep-breathing exercise? When someone insults him, is he more likely to take it, come up with a retort, or excuse himself to find someone else to talk to?”

Bella in Twilight, and Bryce in Lycan Bloodline have believable reactions because of the way the plot to resolves to make it believable. Bella reacts positively because of the events leading up to the revelation. It wasn’t really a surprise because she had heard it from Jacob Black, or in the movie, from a book. So when she finally said it, she’d had time to adjust.

Bryce however, didn’t have time to adjust. It was “I’m a werewolf” and then Bryce started shouting. Perfect.

But with Tom in Wolf’s Tail, he had a similar workup to the revelation as Bryce did, and he melted. Because of that, his reaction broke the magic, and the spell of the plot.

Every time I read a “bad reaction”, I do try to continue to read the story, to get beyond the bad writing. Does it work? Sometimes. Sometimes not. It depends on the ability of the author to overcome their faux pas.

Cheers and enjoy a good story!

  • http://www.castleroland.net/authors/Rilbur.html Rilbur

    Hrm… Great writing points!

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