3 Surprises You Need In A Story

3 Surprises You Need In A Story


Writers Write is your one-stop writing resource and this post is about the 3 surprises you need in a story.

I have been writing about first drafts these past few weeks. Step three is all about inciting moments, but we have written many posts about this before.

‘An inciting moment is the moment of change for your character. It can be positive or negative, but it must be big enough that it forces him, or her, to act and to deal with the situation. This can be as big as a tank driving into the living room or as subtle as a discomforting sentence.’ (source)

Look at these posts for more on inciting moments:

  1. Why Is This Day Different? Knowing When To Start Your Story
  2. Start Here: Three things you need to do at the beginning of your novel

In short, your inciting moment is the moment of change, which should give you your protagonist’s story goal. That goal should drive your story.

Right now, I want to talk about the big surprises or plot points in your story: About one third into your story you should give your reader a surprise, then the middle should have a bigger surprise, and then, near the end, you should have another big surprise or plot point.

Think of the three acts of a story. What is the most significant development in each?

3 Surprises You Need In A Story

In total, you should have five plot points or surprises.

  1. The Inciting Moment – Gives you the story goal.
  2. Surprise One – Things get worse and the goal changes or stays the same, but the odds are increased.
  3. Surprise Two –It can’t get much worse than this and the goal changes or stays the same, but the odds increase again.
  4. Surprise Three – Did I just say that things can’t get worse? This is the Dark Night of the Soul.
  5. The End – Wraps it all up in a satisfying manner.

Now, these are only five scenes of 60. Obviously, the other 55 scenes are important too. But these five alter the story.

The inciting moment gives you the goal, the three surprises change or re-affirm your protagonist’s goal and the end, is well the end. Each surprise needs to be set-up. You use the other scenes to do that.

A Perfect Example

I went to see the new Minions movie this week. I loved it. This is how I break it down.

THIS CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS!
  1. Inciting moment: The Minions don’t have a Villain to serve. Kevin, Stuart and Bob set off to search for a new Le’Boss. Goal: To get a boss.
  2. Surprise One: They arrive in New York and learn about VillainCon, where all the villains will be – most importantly, Scarlet Overkill. They beat the other Henchman in the challenge and Scarlet takes them to London with her. Goal: They have achieved their goal, but they must prove themselves to her.
  3. Surprise Two: In London they meet Herb, Scarlet’s weapon-inventing husband. Scarlet wants to take over the world and orders the Minions to steal Queen Elizabeth’s crown. Goal: Steal the crown. They fail and Bob is crowned king.
  4. Surprise Three: Bob abdicates and gives Scarlet the crown. Scarlet orders their execution. Goal: They flee and are separated. Stu and Bob are captured. Kevin ends up in Herb’s unfinished enlargement machine and is zapped. Kevin is now Godzilla-sized. Herb and Scarlet shoot a lava missile at Kevin. He grabs Scarlet and Herb who are blown up by their own missile and Kevin shrinks.
  5. The End: The queen gets her throne back and rewards the minions. Scarlet returns in true villainous fashion and steals the crown again. She is stopped by a young villain, who we will later know as Gru, who runs off with the crown and takes the Minions with him. The End: The minions have found their new Le’Boss.

Of course, there are many other things that also happen in the story, but these scenes are the backbone. Ask yourself what are the three big changes in your story. They should take your hero closer to, or further from, his goal.

Good luck and keep it surprising.

Top Tip: If you want to write a book, sign up for our online course.

 by Mia Botha

If you enjoyed this post, you will love:

  1. So You Want To Be A Writer?
  2. Identify Your Protagonist And Antagonist
  3. Six Questions To Ask Before You Even Start Your First Draft

This article has 0 comments

  1. Fay

    Wonderful!

  2. Alicia Anderson

    Love your posts! Thank you.

  3. Alicia Anderson

    Love your posts. Thank you!

  4. Mia Botha

    Thank you, Alicia and Fay

  5. Jessica

    I don’t know how long this article has been here but I stumbled across it at just the right time. I knew my plot-line was getting out of control and this is a really clear, defined, way to keep things in check. Thanks!

  6. Mia

    Thanks, Jessica. I am glad it helped.

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