The credible, inevitable surprise is a term I use to describe that part of the story where BOOM! it twists in a WOW type of way that really takes the audience to a new and heightened (and, most probably) more exciting space.
It’s that “Oh my goodness, no way!” moment that was practically destined to happen anyway. It’s the shock that’s not.
- When Boxer gets sent to the glue factory in Animal Farm, it’s the shock that’s not.
- When Peeta saves the life of Katniss instead of killing her because he loves her, it’s the shock that’s not.
- When Darth Vader tells Luke, “I am your father,” it’s the shock that’s not.
These are the moments when it all makes sense. They are credible. (No deus ex machina. No, “Come on, that would never happen” type of sentiment in the audience.)
They are also inevitable. After all, many, many good stories are often quite round in their nature. By that I mean that the problems and conflicts which arise early are the problems and conflicts which will see finality by the end. And almost always see a conclusion arrive in a way that the audience could have easily predicted… but didn’t.
- When Claudius allows Denmark to fall to Fortinbras, we all knew that was coming. It’s inevitable.
- When Huck and Tom save Jim, we all knew that they’d figure out a way. It’s inevitable.
- When Melinda finally triumphs over the Beast, we knew she’d be confronted by him again. And we knew things would be different by the end. We knew she’d figure out a way to Speak. Why? Because it was inevitable.
The credible, inevitable surprise really sets up a very unique relationship between author and audience in that the author must give the audience both the credible and the inevitable while making sure to chart a path that seems as though ‘there’s no way on God’s green earth it’s gonna work out the way I know it’s going to work out.”
And when it does, audiences get to relish in the happy surprise of 1) I knew it all along and 2) I had no idea, either.
Fairy Tales know it…
- The Three Little Pigs follows suit. (The last pig actually saves the day but for a moment, we all were quite concerned about the wolf have a few bacon sandwiches for dinner.)
- Cinderella follow suit. (We know the prince is gonna discover Cinderella’s real identity and spare her from the evil step-family.)
- The Gingerbread Man follows suit. (You just can’t be that annoying and full of hubris and not expect that you’re own sense of arrogance will not eventually lead to your downfall.)
What story are you reading right now? And what’s the credible, inevitable surprise? The authors who do those well – Dickens was a master – are the ones who will always have an audience.
It’s just the way we’re wired.