Plot twists can be both the most marvelous and mysterious elements of a story. As readers, sudden reveals urge us to turn the page. As writers, we scratch our heads, unsure how to artfully conceal information to expose later. We foresee a thousand ways the plot twist might fail. What if readers are more confused than surprised?
As I stared at the blank page beneath the title of this article, my mind revisited all the stories that have given me a transformative experience. I love when my heart skips a beat and I pause to process the exhilarating symphony that the words are orchestrating in my imagination. Or when I come to an ending so satisfying that I’m amazed.
A blank page unleashes an infinite amount of plots, scenes, and characters that beg us to outline their existence in ink. But, if we can’t channel our influx of ideas, the excitement of starting a new project will quickly dissipate. Instead, we’ll be overwhelmed and unable to tell any story at all. A surplus of inspiration can cripple a writer’s sanity as much as a shortage.
One of the biggest challenges with writing speculative fiction is clarifying how your story’s magic and/or technology works. Once you’ve accomplished the monumental task of developing those systems, how do you educate readers without making them yawn? They don’t want you to pause the story to give a lesson on all the phenomena, yet they don’t like being confused (and prone to disbelief) either. (Aren’t readers exasperating?)
Last August, a young man in my church killed himself. He came from a large family, and our community loved him. I decided to chronicle the impact of his death, because a Christian suicide is a troubling situation. If the gospel is a message of hope in the midst of ultimate suffering, what happens when a Christian commits the ultimate hopeless act?
Abortion. Homosexuality. Feminism. Race/border politics (because those have gotten conflated). These topics dominate the news, and fiction needs to accurately portray our world, but how do we write with caution and avoid inflaming or alienating readers?
Sometimes a book’s theme is straightforward. Eustace is sucked into a painting and learns humility. Henry York crawls through a cupboard and learns bravery. Parvin Blackwater crosses the wall and learns to trust God. But the path to transformation isn’t always that simple. Characters may need to wander through labyrinths of tyranny, persecution, murder, neglect, and revenge.
Authors are notorious for inflicting pain upon their characters. In our defense, how else would we propel the plot if our characters didn’t brave the gauntlet?
Books are meant to be read, but boring, skippable scenes defy this purpose. If readers are skimming pages like the advertisement section of a newspaper, the story isn’t fulfilling its design.
Esther is one of the most beautiful books of all time, teaching us more lessons than a college class. It’s the Mona Lisa of literature. Yet, surprisingly, God’s name is absent from the 167 verses, which has caused some people to doubt Esther’s authenticity in the canon.