Reversals: How Bestselling Authors Surprise and Delight Readers

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Reversals transform writing from “ho hum” to “hot dern”.

What bestselling novels tend to do extremely well is surprise, delight and propel readers deeper and deeper into the story. One crucial tool bestselling authors use is called “reversals”.

Simply put, reversals include anything that alters the outcome and/or understanding of the story. This means, of course, that reversals are not only versatile, but highly useful throughout the story, from start to finish.

As with many other elements in successful writing, reversals come in multiple sizes and shapes. I like to think of reversals in two major categories.

Two Types of Reversals: Scene and Story

  • A single scene might involve a dozen or more “micro” reversals where power shifts between two or more characters. I often call these “scene reversals”.
  • “Story reversals” often occur at pivotal points in the narrative, such as in the transition between the beginning and middle (end of Act 1), and the middle and end (End of Act 2) of the story.

Bestselling authors use a series of techniques to exploit each major type of reversal. Any author can easily adopt and apply these tricks and tips to instantly improve their stories. Read these tips below…

Scene Reversal Tips

  • Focus each scene on a single goal that moves the plot forward and reveals character
  • Involve two (or more) characters, if at all possible
  • If you haven’t already, give each character strong motivation.
  • Pit characters against each other (this engenders conflict, tension and suspense).
  • Brainstorm 6 -10 (or more) ways the actions of the characters can directly affect the outcome of the scene (does the character reach the goal or not)
  •  Think in terms of “good and bad”, “plus and minus”, “win and lose.” The outcome of the scene should shift back and forth between the characters right up until the end of the scene.

In the beginning of my novel, Dark Halo, protagonist Landon Paddock and his daughter, Katie, escape from a demon-possessed attacker (good thing). The demon-possed teenager chases them out into a violent storm (bad thing). Landon and Katie jump into a pickup and take off (good thing). The demon-possed teen latches onto the back of the truck and climbs into the truck bed (bad thing). Landon sticks his rifle through the back window and blows off the attackers face (good thing).

Notice how the outcome of the scene turns based on the actions of the characters. All things flow from character choice (which reveals character and drives the plot). 

Consider the book you are currently reading (you are reading, right????) or the next good movie you watch. Pay attention to the “reversals” in each scene, especially the “big scenes” of conflict, action and drama. Try to catch every reversal. Reflect on how the reversal keeps you glued to the story, while highlighting character and propelling the plot). You might just learn something amazing that you can apply to your own writing. 

 

Next post…we’ll look at how bestselling authors use “Story Reversals” to surprise and delight readers…

 

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Christopher Kokoski is a speaker, trainer and author of Wicker Hollow and the Past Lives novel series.

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3 comments on “Reversals: How Bestselling Authors Surprise and Delight Readers
  1. Reblogged this on Meredith Morckel and commented:
    Lovely post

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PAST LIVES
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