I really hate spoilers.
As my roommate can attest to, if I get so much of a whiff of something that’s going to happen in one of my television shows, there’s a pretty good chance my entire week will be ruined. This happened with Once Upon A Time back when the show was in its prime: (Spoiler Alert) I was forced into watching an episode that referenced Rumpelstiltskin as Henry’s grandfather, and I seriously considered abstaining from the show altogether.
Although the spoiler I just mentioned was a significant one, my enjoyment level significantly goes down if I know even the smallest detail of a story. Even if I’d normally be moved to tears by a particularly poignant scene, if I know it’s coming I just shrug and say, “Okay, what’s next?”
I think the main reason that I hate spoilers is because I want to be surprised.
Despite this need to have stories surprise me, though, I often wonder how much the stories I write actually surprise my readers. The key to crafting works that surprise your readers, according to several books about fiction writing, is that you first surprise yourself—a statement that I’ve always found difficult to put into practice.
I’m not a crazy person (okay, that’s debatable). I haven’t quite gotten the hang of breathing life into the characters of my stories in such a way that allows them to run rampant in my mind. They don’t live inside my head, and they stubbornly refuse to tell me what happens next in their stories. So, how exactly am I supposed to “surprise” myself if I’m the only one writing the story?
The only answer I’ve been able to find lies in the creation of lifelike, fully developed characters who have distinct wants and desires. According to the authors of Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft, one of the keys to writing good fiction is to have protagonists who “want, and want intensely” (Burroway and Stuckey-French 251). If your characters aren’t striving for something, there’s nothing propelling them to action—and characters are the source of action, of plot.
Once you’ve managed to create characters who act (and react) realistically based on their wants and desires, the plot in a sense makes itself.