Last week was a ‘proper’ post, so this week it’s time for another interlude, in my quest to try and balance things out a little bit more. This question wanted me to give you my most surprising plot twist or ending, and the title of this post kind of says it all, because for me most books are a surprise. Unless I’ve read them before, of course.
I don’t really know how other people read books, but for the question above I rather imagine someone flicking through the pages (paper or electronic) and going ‘Ha! The butler did it!’ by the time they’re a quarter through the book. Or maybe they’ll go ‘Ha! That farmboy is going to become the saviour of the world!’ or ‘Ha! That poor besotted eighteenth-century girl is going to drown herself before the end!’ or…
Well, you get the idea.
I imagine that people read books and develop theories as they read along. They think they know where a book is going, and as such they are surprised when that isn’t what actually happens. This may result in them being either pleasantly surprised or moderately annoyed, dependent on how invested they were in their theory.
Or maybe I’m wrong and people don’t read books that way. I certainly don’t. It’s not really a conscious decision, but I just let a book take me along for the ride and watch the scenery as it sweeps me away. I don’t have expectations, I don’t develop theories, I don’t really speculate where it’s going to end. As I said, that’s nothing I consciously decide (not) to do, but maybe I feel, deep down, that it takes away from the enjoyment of the book to do so.
The only books where I might have an idea where they’re going are romances, but they tend to be quite formulaic, so that’s hardly surprising. If a woman moved to get away from an abusive ex-husband, you can be pretty damn sure that said ex-husband will show up for the climax of the book to receive a smackdown from the hero. If the hero and heroine hate each other at the start of the book, it doesn’t require a degree in creative writing to expect them to be deeply in love by the time you get to the end.
There are also the murder mysteries of course, but it’s par for the course to have your suspicions about ‘whodunnit’. I’m no exception to this, though if you were to then ask me for a motive I’d probably go ‘ummm… pass’. The TV show Castle is a perfect example of this – usually I’ll point at some person near the beginning of the episode and say ‘he/she did it’. I’ll have no idea why, but prior experience dictates that it’s some minor character who is introduced at the start of the episode, with seemingly only a vague connection to the victim, and is then barely mentioned until the point where it suddenly becomes clear that actually they did it!
I’ve been right about four times out of five.*
(*Remember that 86% of all statistics are made up on the spot.)
This too is fine, by the way. The fun is in the episode itself, not in who did it. The fun is in seeing Castle and Beckett flirt and bicker their way to the conclusion, when you find out that the person you thought did it, did actually do it, and oh, that’s why!
But yes, basically, most books surprise me simply by being well-written books, and I am not looking for the massive, Shyamalan-like plot-twist to turn my world upside down. Did I know how Locke Lamora was going to get himself a suit to get to Duke Nicovante’s big shindig? Hell no. Did I cheer when he pulled it off? Hell yes!
I should mention that this trait seems to annoy my friend Hillary, because whenever I alpha-read her stuff she always goes ‘what do you think? did you expect that?’ and I usually go ‘um, I didn’t really expect anything, sorry…’
Am I unique in this, or do most people read their books like this? I’m not saying there is a right or a wrong way to read a book, and it’s always nice to know that some plot turn surprises people, but I’m just never reading a book with expectations.
I’ll finish this with an anecdote. One of my colleagues read a copy of A Shire Romance and said she’d really enjoyed it, but had been quite scared that Perry and Tamsyn wouldn’t end up happily ever after. When I expressed surprise at that, stating that I was expecting it to be really obvious what was going to happen, since it is a romance and all, she replied, “Yes, but this is you.”
What can I say? I have a reputation at work for being a bit scary and a lot sarcastic, so she just wasn’t expecting my book to be as nice and fluffy as it is. Bless.
Comments are, as always, appreciated.