The #1 Tip for How to Write Books Readers Can’t Put Down

The #1 Tip For Writing A Book That Thrills ReadersAs an author, you have the ability to wield great power. But you know what? You’re probably not wielding it. This power is scary. It probably scares you. It definitely scares your readers. But assuming you want to learn how to write books readers can’t put down–that is a most excellent thing.

What power am I talking about?

I’m talking about the power to glue readers to your pages because they have no idea what’s going to happen next.

Guess What? Your Readers Already Know What’s Going to Happen in Your Book

The idea that what’s gonna happen next? is the most important question in fiction is tossed around quite a bit. You don’t need me to tell you that your readers want at least an element of the unexpected in your book’s ending. Toss in a good old-fashioned plot twist. Mission accomplished.

Or not.

Because if this is all you’re doing, then you’re not wielding your power to thrill readers to its full ability.

Readers today are smart. They understand how stories work. They see 75% of the plot twists coming waaaay yonder down the road. They know the character archetypes. They understand the Hero’s Journey. They know what the setup for a happy ending looks like, and they know when there’s tragedy in the wind.

In some respects, this is unavoidable. In other respects, it isn’t even a bad thing. (Remember, the best stories are those people will read over and over again, long after they know the ending.)

But it also means the door is wide open for any author brave enough to truly wield the fearsome power of the unexpected over his characters’ lives.

The 2-Part Formula for How to Write Books Readers Can’t Put Down

Want to know how to write books readers can’t put down? Let’s get started.

There are two things that glue readers to the page:

#1: Characters they care about.

#2: Events they can’t anticipate.

Of the two, creating likable characters is by the far the bigger job. Indeed, it’s half of writing good fiction altogether–which is why I’ve written much, much more about crafting characters elsewhere. For the time being, we’ll assume you’ve already accomplished that half of the job: you’ve written an incredible cast of characters about whom your readers feel very strongly. Your readers have invested themselves in these characters; they care what happens to them, one way or another.

So what do you do next?

You color outside the lines. You access true power of suspense by eliminating preconceptions about what your characters will do and what will be done to them.

How to Wield Your Authorial Power Like Brent Weeks

Once again, I’m going to reference Brent Weeks’s marvelous Lightbringer series as a great example. These books have repeatedly shocked me, thrilled me, and caught me off guard. Over and over, the story has taken a direction I couldn’t have anticipated. Why?

The Lightbringer Series by Brent Weeks is an excellent example of how to write a book readers can't put down.

Because Weeks doesn’t play nice. He doesn’t conform his plot or characters to the usual assumptions of personal gratification. He’s not out to give readers what we want (because what we want is utterly predictable). He’s out to give readers a raw, edgy, honest, dangerous roller coaster–a book we can’t put down.

He does this by wielding his authorial power absolutely fearlessly.

Readers hold certain expectations, based on past experiences, about how stories should go.

The good guys–however flawed–always end up making the right choices, and certainly they never make any irrevocably bad decisions.

More than that, the good guys are understood to be largely untouchable for most of the story. Sure, the hero may die in the end to save everybody else. He may even get tortured. But he’s not going to get his gorgeous face maimed or his body broken to the point he can no longer perform his awesome routine.

Weeks breaks all these rules, and the results are massively powerful.

Here’s How to Claim Your Power as an Author

Want to take full control of your stories and write books that rise above the predictable pack?

Then don’t confuse “rules” with “preconceptions”–either your readers’ and your own.

Don’t take anything for granted in your stories. To truly wield your authorial power and create the kind of book that surprises readers in all the best ways, you must be willing to question even your own desires for the story. Be willing to go down the scary roads. Don’t go easy on your characters–and don’t assume “going easy” always means what you think it does.

You Know You Are a Writer When You Feel Bad for Being So Mean to Your Characters

Please note that bucking preconceptions doesn’t mean ignoring good story structure or the practical application of character arcs. Within that framework, however, don’t settle for the obvious or easy answers to your story questions. Take a walk down the road of extremes. You may come back with only one or two souvenirs–but even those can be enough to transform your story and teach you how to write books readers can’t put down.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! Is there anywhere in your story where you could upend preconceptions to create a stronger, more unexpected story? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. That is not the first you have mentioned that author and his affect on you. I think I may have to read it. Love the meme. Tweeted it. Great pointers

  2. Likewise, I’m going to check Weeks out.

    How do I balance this with maintaining the contract with the reader?

    As in, there are conventions of the genre and people come to a certain type of book (mine are kids’ fantasies, aimed at 12yo+) with expectations that certain things will happen, certain characters will live or die, and to an extent, straying too far from that is breaking that contract and trust (it’s no longer what it says on the tin)

    Not arguing, clarifying 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It’s a good clarification–because we definitely do have to be careful of subverting reader expectations in a way that disappoints them or angers them (a line that, admittedly, Weeks treads on occasionally). This was actually the main reason the Marvel movie Age of Ultron upset me: I felt like the film made choices that were disrespectful of their audience (namely, the blatant bait-and-switch on Hawkeye’s non-death). As always, as an author, you have to be perfectly aware of what you’re trying to achieve, why, and what the actual effect on the reader will be.

      Too, part of making this work comes down to setting it up in the beginning. If you show readers from the start that you’re not going to be copping to every presupposition, they’ll learn to accept being on their toes throughout the story.

  3. Howza!

    Thanks for the post. Enjoyed what you shared about caring for the character and unexpected events. Sounds like a bucket full of suspense to me!

    A review copy I just finished from an author gave me some sense if this. The first 18% of the book was a little shallow on the character side. I wanted to care for the character, I NEEDED to care for the character. But what I got was something shallow. The protagonist is thrown into the plot without sticking out or me really connecting with him at all. So the result was, he the same as everybody else. Actually I didn’t connect with him until about the midpoint of the book at 50%. From 50% to 75% was the best part. The only surprise was the shotgun ending at 75%. It was very sudden without much buildup with a resolution that didn’t make much sense. The book has potential though. There were definitely some bright spots and highlights.

  4. This is really something to chew on. I can see that you made a really strong point and I grasp it in a sense, but I think it’s still just too intuitive for me. Now I am a very intuitive person myself, but that’s just the problem. I can get by with feeling something, but I’ve learned that I need to understand it to really unlock that intuition and let it flourish.

    I get that I need to be willing to write what I really don’t want to write and that the obvious choice probably isn’t the most powerful choice, but I’m struggling to think of how I can look for what it is that will make my book powerful as opposed to just being able to recognize when I’m being too predictable. You said that a plot twist may not do it, and I know what you’re saying. I’m one of those people who sees most plot twists from a mile away. That being said, I don’t think something is going to really surprise me unless it is a plot twist. So I’m just wondering, what is it that makes the difference between a good plot twist and a bad one? I know part of it is to be wary of giving hints, but is there anything that determines that one plot twist is going to be a shocker while the other one can be predicted?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      First of all, your first paragraph totally describes me. I’m very intuitive as well, but I have to “name” things to fully claim and understand them.

      Secondly, good questions. When you think about it, the pairing of “unexpected” with “inevitability” is, of course, totally contradictory. To achieve this magic balance, the key ingredient is always narrative cohesion. The unexpected aspect has to be built into the background of the story in a way that makes its eventuality totally realistic and, even more important, totally resonant within the story.

      In a previous comment, I mentioned that I felt Joss Whedon jerked viewers around with the way he set up Hawkeye’s “non-death” scene. There were quite a few problems with this, but the only one that truly matters is the fact that this little “twist” had no resonance–thematic or character or even plot–within the story.

      Twists and unexpected elements always have to matter so integrally that they become, in essence, the point of the story. The bigger or more shocking the unexpected element, the more important it needs to be.

      • Thanks. That’s a good point. It actually led my mind down just the rabbit trail I wanted to travel. I think I might have come up with a rule for what makes a good plot twist. Tell me what you think. My rule is this:

        “A good plot twist is one where the plot twist ruins everything the character wanted to accomplish but isn’t in vain because it helps push them down the long road of character development — a road which they need to travel.”

      • So a plot twist resembles the punchline of a joke: after you’ve seen it, it fits into the pattern that has been established, only in an unexpected way. And after you’ve seen it, you can’t un-see it. And it isn’t so funny the second time–you already know the unexpected pattern.

      • YES. I’m also someone who usually “figures it out” before the end, but I realize I also enjoy doing that. If it’s laid out so that characters don’t seem stupid, I enjoy watching them figure it out; it adds dramatic irony that may or may not have been intended.

        I enjoy a good twist where I don’t see it coming. But I HATE twists that seem to be thrown in just to be a twist. I recently read The Cuckoo’s Calling (by Robert Galbraith aka J.K. Rowling), and I was frankly pissed at the end. It felt like the killer was the person it was to be a surprise; I was not at all convinced that the motivations given were sufficient to lead to murder. Plus, I didn’t understand how the detective figured it out, other than that the all-knowing narrator told him.

        I think a good twist is something that is a possibility, even one that the reader sees and goes, “No, THAT wouldn’t happen,” but that makes sense in the overarching plot — which often includes subtle foreshadowing that is overshadowed by what we’re “supposed” to think.

        Now, writing something like that is a completely different story, but I would honestly rather be a mite predictable than frustrating to the point that the reader wants to throw the book away at the end.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          I agree with all of this. No matter how sneaky, plot twists *will* be figured out by at least some of the readers. My gauge for whether or not a plot twist is good is not whether or not I figure it out–but whether or not I think it’s awesome *after* I’ve figured it out.

  5. Joe Long says

    In my own WIP, I’ve already spilled the beans recently here that in the end, the guy doesn’t get the girl.

    I have a brief prologue that shows the lead characters 35 years later, with children and grandchildren and leading normal lives. Everything else is a flashback to when they were teens. Everyone is going to get hurt in the third act in one way or another. These weren’t the things that happened to me as a teenager, but I had a rough time emotionally. I’ve had some appreciative comments from readers that despite the rough times, things can and mostly do work out.

    This also reminds me of when I was a kid and each week watching previews of shows like “Star Trek”. My dad would joke, “You know they aren’t going to kill McCoy off.” 15 years later, I remember Steven Bochco being a pioneer on “Hill Street Blues.” They did kill of major characters with no warning. It felt more real and tugged at your emotions. 20 years after that Ron Moore got a reputation as an executioner. He was the guy who killed Captain Kirk, then half the cast on Battlestar Galactica. When they killed off Starbuck, the actress was the only one they told that she was coming back, in order to get more raw reactions from the other actors. Moore said Edward James Olmos smashed the model sailing ship that was one of the props in his office.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      That’s kinda funny. It’s an in-joke around here that whenever there’s a tense moment in TV show, I always say, “Don’t worry! They have contracts!” Which, honestly, is one of the biggest handicaps of serial fiction.

      Not that it has to be, though. As you point out, the stories that do pull the rug out from under expectations are all the more powerful because of all the other stories that *don’t.*

  6. This is a good advice, the kind captain Jack Sparrow would give, yet there’s a string unatumed: Brent Weeks is a bit of a butface when it comes to his characters. Granted the Night angel’ s rilogy gave me everything I wanted, but some things could’ve gone a lil bit different.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It’s a risk you have to take. I’ll admit Weeks’s roller coaster doesn’t always play out how I want it it. But it’s always interesting and always thought-provoking.

      • A great point. I’ll forgive almost anything, even a plot development that really disappoints me, if it’s INTERESTING.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          There have moments where Weeks has made me downright mad. But his stories get in my head like crazy. I chew over them more obsessively than I do just about any others.

          • This makes me want to read his books! I’m always in search of something new to chew on.

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

            I will throw out there that his books get a hard R rating for language and violence, if that bothers you.

  7. This is an excellent point, KM… and is exactly why I don’t plan my crime novels. I just develop a few themes into threads, introducing both new and familiar characters as I go, then let the characters lead me through the situations.

    I usually don’t have the slightest clue about how my story will end until I’m at least half way through writing a book. I don’t even know which of the threads will turn out to be the important one, and which ones might be red herrings or feeders that simply provide support to the story. (For example, a major crime in my current WIP has turned out to be nothing more than the history of a weapon that then gets passed into the hands of my real bad guys. Yet that crime was originally the idea that led to me starting the book.) I’m just over 40K words in, and I’ve only just realised who the revenge that defines most of my stories will be taken against, and why. (I didn’t realise that my novels were about revenge until another author read two of them and pointed it out. I realised then that all the others were also ultimately about revenge to a greater or lesser extent… and not always righteous revenge.)

    As I’ve said before, if I have to keep ‘turning the pages’ to find out what’s going to happen, then hopefully my readers will too. It makes the writing far more exciting to do.
    If a likeable or interesting character gets into a dodgy situation, then they’re on their own. Only my titular protagonist (who only acts as a catalyst anyway, leaving the real policing to the police.) is guaranteed to survive intact for the next book in the series.

    Once I get an idea of how my story could end, I’ll begin to steer the threads towards that conclusion.
    But the ending isn’t set in stone. It could easily change, it often does, and there’ll always be a final twist, either on the last page, or as a very short final chapter, maybe as an epilogue, which I don’t even think about till the (first) ‘ending’ has been written and all the loose ends apparently neatly tied up.

    • Your stories sound intriguing, and I completely relate to your writing process. I’m writing book 2 in my series, and I too, have no clue how each book ends until it’s more than 1/2 way through. The characters are really the ones running the show 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Lots of writers work this way–“telling themselves the story.” Actually, I would argue *all* writers work this way. Even though I’m an in-depth outliner and know the story by the time I get to the first draft, I first have to go through that entire period of unexpected discovery *in* the outline. I’m always surprised by how things turn out.

  8. Max Woldhek says

    Well, as long as you don’t go overboard. Game of Thrones, for example, have done so many “shocking twists” that by now the real shocker would be if nobody dies.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Hah. Totally. Writers have to be aware of developing their own obvious patterns as well. We need to always be challenging out selves to think outside our *own* boxes, which is perhaps the most difficult challenge of all, since we’re so blind to our own patterns sometimes.

      • And yet the repetition of patterns in our favorite writers’ stories is an EXTREMELY endearing quality!

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          I think this is another one of those “balance” things. It’s true we go back to authors because we want more of the same. But, at the same time, we’ve all read authors that, at some point, make us feel like they’re such mindlessly recycling their stuff.

          • Very true, and in the worst cases, the author’s heart has gone out of it and they’re writing to the market. To me, if the author herself is still burning to work more with the materials, I’ll stay and read to the end.

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

            I definitely think it shows when the author isn’t passionate about what she’s writing. And if she doesn’t care, why should readers?

  9. I agree with everything you’ve said here, except that for me, creating characters is so much easier than plot. I love what you said, “We can’t take anything for granted in our stories”. We can’t settle for what our story is, we must search for ways to make it better.
    I’m currently writing the sequel to my first book, (which is so much more difficult than the first one was), and the character is already established. The plot has been the problem, so yesterday I was inspired to do a plot twist. He (the protagonist) is a young man who’s just escaped the Roman legions by faking his death, and while it might have ended up boring and safe, I instead added another character as my plot twist, who throws a kink into all of the plans.
    Loved the insight and examples you used in this article. Thanks!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Characters who throw kinks into the plan are always good! I know you probably already know I’m going to say this, but: if you’re struggling with plot, the first place to look is your story structure. If you follow the primary structural beats, it will give you a road map for identifying your weak spots and brainstorming the right solutions.

      • Exactly right, and exactly what I’m doing. Sometimes you have to go right back to the beginning and figure out what the story is about, then that gives you a whole new insight. As I’ve been going over the story structure, I’ve completely redone it, and now it’s interesting. 🙂

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          Definitely. Stories are cohesive wholes. The ending is found in the beginning, and the beginning must incorporate the eventual ending.

          • Joe Long says

            I wrote a prologue that occurs 35 years later, so it’s the eventual end.

            The very last part of the prologue (at the end of a funeral, at the cemetery) –

            She shook her head. “Even from the beginning, I could tell by the way she looked at me – I don’t think she ever liked me that much. I don’t know what I did to her.”

            Furious, I snapped my head around and stared right into her. “Don’t! Just don’t!”

            ‘Will I ever be able to tell her?’

            Even those few sentences direct most of the third act.

            Why was their first impression so poor? The two women had to have met before the end. Seeing him with her, even if they were broken up, was the final straw (and what were the earlier straws?) that caused her to crash so bad, making something he did have to profusely apologize for. He was caught up in his own self pity and didn’t see the toll on her until it was almost too late (giving me the climax).

            That actually was the logical progression that went through my mind after writing those lines for the prologue, which occurred more recently when I was replacing telling with showing.

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

            “Fast forwards” like this can be very effective, especially in literary, character-driven novels.

  10. Kate Flournoy says

    Hey, this is an awesome article. Thanks so much! I write by EXTREME intuition, so I totally understand what your point is.
    And it is an excellent point.
    The author whose work I first noticed this shocking unpredictability in was Gillian Bronte Adams, with her Songkeeper Chronicles. She does this mostly with characters, but since her plots are very character driven it constantly leaks over into the storyline. She’s not scared to hurt her characters or have them fail, and I found that really inspiring. I am another one of those people who can smell a plot twist miles off, but she still managed to surprise (horrify might be more correct 😛 ) me several times.

    ‘More than that, the good guys are understood to be largely untouchable for most of the story. Sure, the hero may die in the end to save everybody else. He may even get tortured. But he’s not going to get his gorgeous face maimed or his body broken to the point he can no longer perform his awesome routine.’

    Preach it. 😀 I used to really struggle with that, but now I actually enjoy experiencing the depth and power of a broken character.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Broken characters are the da best. There’s so much interesting stuff to explore in weaknesses. Gillian was a guest author here a while back. I can tell I’m going to have to check out her novels!

  11. I totally agree! As a scene starts to form in my head, I think about it for a bit. The first scene I imagine is usually my default. I play around with it until I have something different, less cliche. I definitely don’t go easy on my characters.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Good for you! I’m always asking myself, “What would be expected from this scene?” and then trying to flip that on its head to find some really interested avenues to explore.

    • I love this advice! I’m too prone to go with the first scene that feels right, but I need to push through to generate more ideas!

      • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

        I definitely find that my first ideas are usually my worst. If I dig a little deeper, that’s when interesting things start to happen.

        • Through some combination of this advice, Rivka Galchen’s Little Labors, and a lioness at the zoo, I have officially had a breakthrough. I know what happens in my story, but I’ve been struggling with how I want to tell it. I THINK I have an idea now.

    • I like your idea. I was imagining a scene this week and playing out possible outcomes. I may or may not know how exactly an individual book ends but I know for sure how I want to end my series. The details are fuzzy. I have a general idea and know some key plot points. As I am writing, the characters reveal it to me like a movie played in my head.

      I have a few stories in my series I wanted to write but couldn’t bring myself to write until recently because, well I knew from start to finish how the protagonist was going to save the day and save the community. That and my protagonist develops magical powers that can make fight scenes very boring and easy for him.

      Well… That just completely bored me until I thought:
      1. Imagine the realm of possibilities in my world. If a plot twist can occur, then imagine the outcome. If it makes the next several scenes more exciting and still works towards my intended ending, then go for it. Bonus points if the plot twist surprises even the author (but still fits in the realm of possibility and works towards the overarching theme/ plot.)

      2. If defeating antagonists is too easy then how about this: make that “most heroic deed” into the protagonist’s worst mistake? A mistake that has enough ramifications to potentially destroy the “happy little ending” or make achieving it much more difficult (and even if it is achieved, make it bittersweet.)

      That said I am still a bit stuck on a number of books in my series (that I found too predictable and boring) and I need to get back into writing them and play out the plot twists.

  12. “Don’t take anything for granted in your stories.” I think this is amazing advice, and very much the advice I need for my story. I’m consciously using certain tropes, which makes it all the more important to keep it fresh and alive. But, on the other hand, as a Ne-Si type, I also love encountering the same old situation or idea over and over again, where all the variations associated with the theme get woven into the big web that is all the stories I love. I love patterns. I like soothing books with lots of conversations and lots of long paragraphs analyzing the characters’ motivations. But even if you want to be completely self-indulgent, you still have to surprise yourself sometimes, or the story just becomes lazy and dead. It doesn’t take much to add something new, but if I’m not varying the theme at least a little bit, what is the point?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I have this theory that each of us really only has one story to tell–and we just go on telling it over and over in different ways.

      • That’s pretty awesome!

      • I love that theory! Some of my favorite writers, like Jane Austen and Barbara Pym, really wrote pretty much the same kind of story over and over, but each variation added something to the overall body of work.

        And at the same time, it’s amazing to me how so many people can write stories I love that are so DIFFERENT from each other. It’s amazing to read a writer whose mind works like mine, or to read a writer whose mind is completely different. There truly is value in all of it, and I’m so glad we now live in a time when everyone has an opportunity to put their work out to the public.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          At some point, readers *do* get tired of the same old thing. But one thing to keep in mind is that, as readers, they’re experiencing many, many different authors. They get their variety here and there and everywhere. It’s not up to one single author to provide that variety in and of herself.

      • I agree with you, Kim, and I wrote about that on my blog recently. I call it a reason. We all have a reason we’re writing, a purpose, and a message. Whether we realize it or not, it’s consistent no matter what we write. My first book (never published) and my second book (published) are like night and day, but when you boil it down, they’re all really about the same thing – the same thing that I am about.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          Indeed. I call it the “scarlet thread” that runs through all our stories. It’s generally not a conscious thing to begin with, but it’s something that deeply ingrained in us to the point we can’t *not* write about it.

  13. Great post — you’ve really got me thinking! It’s hard to see what’s unexpected and what’s surprising in my own novel, partly because I’m new to this and partly because I know it all so well by now. But the more I think about it, yes, I bet most readers could predict essentially where the story is going by the second or third chapter. Hm.

    Maybe I could kill off one of my sympathetic POV characters. That sounds terrible and drastic, but boy, it would certainly be unexpected and emphasize the danger of the situation.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Now, I will throw out a caution here. Just because we *can* shock readers doesn’t always mean we should. For example, in a cozy romance, randomly axing characters probably isn’t a good choice. What’s important is knowing what tone, theme, and angle you’re going for–and how best to achieve it.

      • Good point — I’m the last one to go around killing off characters willy-nilly, especially not in a cozy romance! But this is a story about a cursed house that does, in fact, kill people. So far it’s only killing strangers and minor characters, so I wonder if the readers will feel reassured that the “real” characters aren’t actually threatened. Killing off the MC’s best friend would definitely pop that bubble and pump up the tension. I’m not sure I could bear to do it, though.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          Which is a good point in itself: if you set up a story to deal with dark issues, you have to be willing to actually *deal* with those issues, rather than just hinting at them.

          • I think I can deal with the issues raised without necessarily killing off one of my MC’s two best friends. I was just thinking that if I _did_ kill one of the POV characters, that would definitely make the readers more worried about the other POV characters.

    • Will your POV character die during his “watch” ?

      • Oh yes, if I killed off one of my POV characters, the reader would definitely see it happen directly, from that person’s perspective. I’d pretty much have to, since everyone who is killed in this house is alone when it happens. I suppose I could find them dead later, but that would be boring. Still, I’d keep what happened ambiguous, to maintain the mystery about what’s really going on. ((rubs hands together menacingly))

  14. This is one of the things I loved about Nadine Brandes’s “A Time to Die.” Serious plot twists that aren’t held back by expectations on what “shouldn’t” happen to a character. It was a very exciting ride of a book for me because of that! It inspired me as an author to be more adventurous in the same way. 🙂 I can be too soft on my characters. 😛

  15. A lot of expectations on plot come from movies and TV. They know what people want, and try to give it to them, with varying degrees of success. Look at how many sequels there are in movies now. People want the same thing, but with a slight twist. They want completion of something from the previous movie. In my book, Operation Mermaid: The Project Kraken Incident, I tried to shake things up from the usual mermaid novels. For example, in most mermaid novels, being a mermaid is this big secret that has to stay hidden. Only the mermaid’s true love, who is usually a human, can find out, and even he is sworn to secrecy. In my book, I start out with an event that transforms thousands of women into mermaids. It’s too big to be a secret anymore. I can give other examples, but they are spoilers. As I have one of my characters say, “This isn’t a novel. This is real life.”

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Cool premise! This makes me think of the end of the first Iron Man, in which the protagonist breaks all the super hero “rules” by revealing his true identity to the press. It’s still one of my favorite endings ever.

    • I guess this is where our creativity comes into play. Giving people what they want, yet slightly different.

  16. I just read (i think it was in “Story”) we should give readers/viewers what they want, but not how they expect it.

    I was like, “mind blown.”

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Kaboosh! Robert McKee like that. Every page of Story was a revelation for me.

  17. I like the simplicity of the two part formula. This probably sums up all our writing.

    #1: Characters they care about.

    #2: Events they can’t anticipate.

    I want to learn how to write a character that people care for. Take my readers into his mind, emotions and reactions. Bring them into what he desires and why.
    This is first and foremost. The second is learning how to write suspense into our story, which I’d love to apply to my WIP. You also mentioned about eliminating preconceptions, which speak to our knowing what those are in the first place. As a consumer of television and novels, I know what I wouldn’t want to repeat to a certain degree. Things that have been done too many times already. BUT, I’ve been noticing the really creative authors will reinvent stories with the same elements into something awesome. Hats off to them to accomplish such a task.


  18. Catherine H. says

    Hmm, really got me thinking and I have quite a few new ideas already. Thanks! Great post.

  19. We want to have no idea what’s going to happen next, and we also want to foreshadow everything. How can these both be true?

    Foreshadow everything AND ITS OPPOSITE!

    That means foreshadowing plenty of events that never happen.

    • correction:

      We want the reader to have no idea what’s going to happen next, and we also want to foreshadow everything. How can these both be true?

      Foreshadow everything AND ITS OPPOSITE!

      That means foreshadowing plenty of events that never happen.

      • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

        Red herrings are a technique of their own, but we want to be very careful about how we sow our misdirection. It’s an invaluable technique, but we never want to leave readers feeling like we’ve left loose ends.

  20. This exact thing has been on my mind lately. As I’m plotting my current project (using your fabulous Outlining Your Novel Workbook) I’m very uncomfortable with where I’m taking my main character. If I’m having to fight against myself about how dark this plot goes, because it’s not necessarily the kind of book that I usually want to read, I’m wondering how readers will feel about it. But I feel intuitively that it is the right direction, even if I don’t like it.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I always say follow your gut. There are lots of good reasons not to write about certain subjects. Fear isn’t one of them.

  21. The hero not doing all the preconceived, assumed hero things. YES! As in maybe the hero betraying the sidekick instead of the sidekick betraying the hero?


  22. Color outside the lines???

    anarchist! 😉

  23. I joke about coloring outside the lines, but I was a bit surprised by it. Going through Outlining again and ‘connecting the dots’… which you (meaning a person doing the puzzle) then goes on to color… inside the lines… (isn’t that the reason to create/connect them after all?)

    Reading through a couple of times and the comments helped convey the intent. Like any art form, sometimes to convey your vision you have to break through the walls of convention.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It does end up being kind of a mixed metaphor, doesn’t it? :p

      But, yes, when I say “color outside the lines,” I’m not necessarily talking about coloring outside the lines of the outline. For me, all of these important decisions get made during the outline. That’s the period when I’m ruthless about thinking outside the box–coloring outside the lines–following all the possibilities to their logical ends, so I know how each choice will affect the story as a whole and particularly the ending.

      Then when I’m ready to start drafting, I can stay within the outline’s lines for the most part–even if this those lines are wild and crazy to some degree.

  24. “There are two things that glue readers to the page:
    #1: Characters they care about.
    #2: Events they can’t anticipate.”

    ^ I agree with that so much. Creating characters the reader cares about is the most important thing you can do to find success in writing fiction. You don’t have to be a great writer, or great plotter, or great anything. Just make the readers give a damn about what’s going to happen to the characters you’ve created and they’ll keep reading.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yep, I’ll forgive a story for a less than stellar plot if I love the characters–but it rarely works the other way around.

  25. Some real gems here. It’s a tough balance sticking to proper structure while also delivering the unexpected on a regular basis. Things which worked before have diminishing returns, so there’s a need to keep coming up with new twists. And it’s not always easy to predict exactly what readers are guessing. But, as you point out, even if they know what’s on the horizon that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as long as the delivery is spot-on.

    I think my own current story could be made stronger if I started allowing less predictable and more costly things happen to my own characters. But I it’s hard, I just love them so much! 😉

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      For me, it always comes to being honest in my writing. Sometimes I just have to step back from a scene and look at it through a logical lens. What would *really* happen in a situation like this? For example, we often write our heroes into torture scenes–and then go easy on them because don’t want to deal with the plot ramifications of what that would *really* be like.

      • This really spoke to me because I went through a phase of this in my early drafts where I have my protagonist all grown up, get taken by an enemy, tortured and then come back like nothing happened. How unrealistic! No wonder I got stuck and put it on hold for a number of years.
        As I got to writing the next draft I realized oh no it wouldn’t work out that way. He’s going to end up traumatised and working out of that can be an interesting plot in itself.
        That said, I still feel like I go too easy on my characters and can definitely work on them more.

        I also found the opposite to be true. I wanted to have a soldier character be a deserter until my beta reader pointed out the real life consequences of that crime. To suspend disbelief I’d be required to off that character or exile him, but since I have a couple exiles that survived, he would have to be the one who couldn’t make it back. Since the character is a much needed POV character, I realized I couldn’t do that drastic of an action. I’m having to brainstorm a more realistic crime (1. that fits his personality and his motives: idealist who abhors whatever he deems unnecessary violence. (even if it is necessary) 2. serious enough if he got caught he could be put to death. 3. the only witness is his former best friend who is the one able to give the sentence but chooses not to (instead discharges him immediately with a death threat to never return. 4. He doesn’t face punishment for the crime, but it becomes a stumbling block in the future when the said ex- friend and his life cross paths. 5. the crime can’t be so serious that point #4 breaks the suspension of disbelief for the reader. )

        I’m still brainstorming that one out. Would it be a better to just go vague on the nature of his crime (it’s all just backstory) and just leave it up to the readers to make up their reasons?

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          Depends how important it is to the story. If it’s important, then it will need to be explained at some point, although not necessarily right away.

  26. Sunny V Shine says

    This is great.
    I think that probably the best thing we can do as writers is to write stories that are both surprising and predictable –especially in a series.
    If you don’t know what I mean by that, take a good TV show like Andy Griffith. People who watch and love that show love it because it’s predictable. We know all the characters well enough to know how they’ll react in most situations, and yet they still surprise us. Andy almost never fails to say something at the end of each episode that I never saw coming, but it’s never outside his character. It’s still something he would say.
    In a way, it’s predictably unpredictable which I can imagine is very hard to accomplish.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      The Andy Griffith Show is a fabulous example–and one of my all time favorite shows. The essence of humor is the juxtaposition of surprise and honesty, and this show did that so incredibly well.

    • I really enjoy the Andy Griffith show. A friend from work got me into watching episodes in the breakroom. The humor, situations and the characters really make it.

  27. Those are some good points, K.M., though I don’t think a lot of people would like it if the protagonist dies or have their spirit be broken, let alone a character that the protagonist is close to die. I am sure that if I wrote off Vance, who is Amelia’s best friend, a lot of people are going to be mad about that.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      You’d be surprised. 🙂 Especially these days, lots of readers appreciate hard-hitting realism in their stories.

  28. I never knew that. That would be cool if I did something that was realistic and a lot of people were impressed, but there’s also a lot of people that aprecciate mystery, since mystery is pretty popular.

  29. What are the most realistic mysteries that people like to read? I’ve never read a realistic mystery before, and I have the first book in a series called The Mysterious Benedict Society. I might try to read the rest of it when I get back to my home state. I’m currently in a beach house in Panama City, Florida. I live in Alpharetta, GA.

  30. David Baldacci is one of my grandma’s favorite authors as well as Vince Flynn. Is it true that sometimes realism is appreciated in some books, like superhero stories?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Definitely. There always needs to be at least some element of realism to ground the story and allow the reader to suspend their disbelief.

  31. Does that mean I can kill off a character that isn’t (very) necessary to the story? Or maybe someone that the protagonist isn’t very close to?

    • A death can be a very useful plot device to show the various character traits of your characters… That of the killer (if the deceased has been murdered), or the way that others react to the death; the remorse or otherwise. The grief of others can be used to set scenes, or to change moods dramatically.

      Sometimes the sheer shock of someone dying, after you’d built them up to be loved by the reader, can be used to explain why another character begins to act differently.

      I’ve just used the death of one ‘nice’ character, to turn another ‘sweet and gentle’ young guy into a single minded vengeance machine.
      He gloats over the suffering of the man who murdered (and facilitated the rape of) his girlfriend, as he dies horribly at the young man’s hands… It was such great fun to write, and gave the novel an edge.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Definitely–although if the character is unnecessary, you might first want to consider whether he belonged in the story in the first place. He needs to be necessary to the plot up *to* the point where he dies.

  32. My character StarGirl shot twice, first to prevent Vance from being shot, and the second was a do or die situation, though it was Raven, StarGirl and Raven’s families and friends that were going to die as well as Raven, so she had to act.

  33. Jessica Salmonson says

    “For me, it always comes to being honest in my writing. Sometimes I just have to step back from a scene and look at it through a logical lens. What would ** happen in a situation like this? For example, we often write our heroes into torture scenes–and then go easy on them because don’t want to deal with the plot ramifications of what that would *really* be like.”


    I think this counts:

    Right on chapter one things seem easy for the pov character she uses her magic has speed, can hide in the shadows, and completes her mission but the consequence of doing so end up weakening her throughout the book so much she looses all of her magic due to all energy needed to cast these taken away. Later on, this gets worse as her body starts to break down and she still has to do what needs to be done. Being prideful and in the grip of her Lie, she has trouble telling others what’s wrong and why. Along with any injuries to all characters having continuing effects chapters onward. I mean injures don’t just vanish in real life so why would they in a story? I always found that annoying.


  1. […] when the story’s not so simple? Well, take a look at K M Weiland’s nod to Brent Weeks: Brent is an author who bends rules until they scream to keep the reader […]

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