Guest post by Logan Judy
Good Writers Drop Nukes
I’ve long been obsessed with what makes a writer a great writer. My interests in fiction are very diverse, stretching from massive classics like Les Miserables and Dante’s Divine Comedy to modern works like the Percy Jackson series and Neal Shusterman’s Unwind Dystology. I’ve also read some books I despised. So I kept asking, what separates these guys from the rest of the crowd?
There are many things that separate them, but I’ll tell you one that is very important, and fairly easy to grasp: Good writers drop unexpected, fat, whopping, H-bombs on their readers.
Recently I was talking with a friend who is currently reading my novel Finding Sage. He was referring to an event that happens about half-way through the book, and told me “At that point, I knew that everyone except for Silas (the main protagonist) was fair game.”
That wasn’t intentional. When I wrote that into the plot, I hadn’t sat down and decided I was going to make my story unpredictable by that plot element, but the effect was still there. I had stumbled onto a gold mine. Now I use that as a hard and fast rule for every novel. Drop nukes.
Take for example J.K. Rowling (if you haven’t read the Harry Potter books, this is a huge spoiler, so you might want to skip this paragraph). When I picked up Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (which just happens to be my favorite in the series), I had no idea what was going to happen to Harry. For all I knew, he could live, he could die, or he could become possessed by dark magic and turn evil before killing himself. I had no idea. Why? Dumbledore. Most fans may never have said it aloud, but Harry Potter fans assumed that Dumbledore was off limits. She’d never kill him, right? He’s the supreme leader! The guy’s practically a god! There’s no way he could die! Then she killed him. That was a nuke if there ever was one. The result? We all had no idea what to expect.
That’s the power of dropping a nuke. Every reader starts a story with the assumption that all of the main protagonists will live and the villains will all die or be permanently subdued in some fashion. When you tear that assumption to shreds, you set a precedent. By killing an important character, for example, the reader is never sure that any of his or her favorite characters are safe, even if you don’t kill a single character for the rest of the series! A good guy is shown to be a traitor, and all of a sudden every suspicion on the part of that paranoid worry wart is legitimized.
There can be good books without nukes. I’ll give you that. But the ones we remember are the ones with nukes. That’s why we remember the sixth Harry Potter book so well. That’s why Christopher Nolan fans love The Prestige so much. That’s why Star Wars is such a classic. And that’s why so many predictable books get lost in the shuffle.
Good writers drop nukes. So go into your writing spot and pull out your plot chemistry set. For me that’s a crowded desk in a tiny excuse for a room that used to be a breakfast nook. For you that might be the upstairs bedroom. Or your parents’ basement. Or that table at Starbucks that might as well have your name written on it. Whatever it is, go there, and get to work.
I look forward to the mushroom clouds.
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