A couple of years ago, back when I used to work in an office, we had a “decorate your cubicle” contest for Halloween. Now, I take these kinds of contests very seriously, so my cubemate and I set out to destroy our competition with the best-decorated space ever.
In addition to all the usual things – bloody handprints on the window, spiders and webs in the corners, and orange glowing lights hanging from the ceiling, we added something a little…special. Behind our desks sat a squat wide set of drawers, the perfect length for a body.
Before the judging of the contest, we made it look like there was a body under a sheet back there, adding my cubemate’s sneakers sticking out from the bottom of the sheet to complete the effect. I invited the Halloween judge over to our cubicle on some work pretext and made sure she noticed the body. She checked it out, examined the fake plastic pumpkin head, and then left, satisfied that it was indeed a fake body.
When the contest began, we got rid of the fake body and my cubemate put his sneakers on and hid under the sheet in its place. I led the judge back through our space, where she noticed everything again, nodded approvingly, and turned to go…before my cubemate suddenly sat up.
The judge screamed. Her exact words were, “I just peed my pants a little.” Needless to say, we won hands down. 😉
I think this same trick can be used to great effect in writing as well. If your readers expect one thing, say a nice, tame fake body, and suddenly that body sits up, it makes for a much more exciting, surprising read. I know from my own reading experience that I can usually guess more or less where a book is going long before I reach the end. If you read enough, you learn to recognize the patterns. It therefore takes a truly extraordinary, unique story to catch me completely by surprise. And those stories are always the best.
What do you think? Do you love unexpected endings? What’s the last book that truly surprised you?