Would You Rather Be Right?

Is it better to be right, or entertained? Or do those two have to be mutually exclusive of one another?

Over the weekend, I got hit with a bunch of inspiration for story ideas. (Naturally. I quit writing, why wouldn’t inspiration come now?) So I started playing around in InfoPath* from Microsoft, which I have loaded on my computer.

Anyway, the form makes use of the three-act story structure format, which I break into basic components like First Act, First Plot Point, Pinch Point 1 and 2, etc.

So, I click on the “Fill In Form” button on my template and a new form pops up ready to be filled in. I use the Tab key to go from field to field and I fill out what I need to fill out. When I’m done I have a pretty good short synopsis or unbulleted outline of my story idea, ready to be worked further into a written piece.

I had two possible stories so I filled out a couple of forms . And as I did so I discovered I had a few options with one of the ideas. In one scenario, the story goes one direction, but when the plot goes the other direction it adds an unexpected twist to the story, especially if the writer has carefully written the piece and doesn’t telegraph the ending.

My wife read that option and said, “I don’t like this one. I’d rather invest my trust and sympathy with this character and be right than do so and be surprised.”

As writers, “surprise” is a good thing. A very good thing. We like readers to be surprised. But what about you, dear readers?

When you’re watching a movie, or reading a book, or playing a video game, or whatever, would you rather be right, or be surprised? For readers, if you’re chugging along rooting for a character and find out late in the book the character isn’t what you thought, are you disappointed, or happily surprised? (Assume here the writing is well done and the turn of the character isn’t lame or ridiculous.)

Movie fans, do you like to be surprised by movies or would you rather say “I knew it!” and be right about the characters and/or story?

Sound off, everyone! I wait with bated breath for your input!

-JDT (who would rather be right but wants YOU to be surprised)-


All original content copyright 2010 DarcKnyt


* – InfoPath allows you to create and fill out forms which then store the data from the controls on the form somewhere useful – a database, server location, intranet site, yadda yadda – for use at another time. Me, I just use it to keep stuff on my local drive, which I have to trick InfoPath into believing is a server location. (As an aside, I did the same thing a few months back with a Word template and protected sections; I can use either depending on mood, but interestingly, InfoPath doesn’t allow me to go from XML file to Word document even though Microsoft claims the .docx format is XML-based. Go figure.)


18 thoughts on “Would You Rather Be Right?

  1. I like surprises. I like twist endings and such in movies/books/etc.

    Lots of folks do; I’m sorta split on it, I think. I like the surprise a bit, but I’m obsessive about being right. 😉

  2. I vote surprise, but I don’t mind being right. It’s satisfying to watch something play out the way you think it will, but then it could run into TOO familiar territory, and of course every reader is different in what is too familiar to her.

    I think I’m the opposite; I vote right, but don’t mind being surprised. Sometimes I think it makes me feel dumb, which I hate.

    I guess that’s why “they” say to just write what you want, rather than what happens to be hot that year. If you want us to be surprised then you should surprise us.

    Oh, I’m not talking about trends or what’s hot right now; just writing in general. Do you try to fool your audience, or do you not worry about them being able to figure it out? In my own mind, I like right better; others like surprise better. As a writer, I want to surprise the reader though, every time.

  3. It depends. On something like CSI or Cold Case, I prefer to be right. But I love being surprised in movies like The Sixth Sense, or The Others, or more recently, The Informant. In a show like LOST, I like both.

    Hm, interesting. (The Sixth Sense and The Others didn’t fool me at all, sadly.) I think I like both too, depending on the media. If TV can surprise me, awesome. If a movie can, great. Books almost always do; I miss the point amid the details and can’t really stay focused. 😦 (Just me.) BTW, your comment went into moderation for some reason; did you use a new name, URL or email addy?

    • No, but I had to fill out my name, rank, and serial number in order to comment! I had to do that on another WP blog today. Weird. Maybe I no longer exist.

      Hm. Sounds like you’ve been logged out of the WP system. I don’t know; if I had a legit connection I’d offer to see what I can find but … you know.

  4. I vote for surprise, with a condition: it’s gotta be something that I can later find evidence for in earlier sections. If I can say, Of course — I completely missed that!, well, that’s okay. I don’t mind learning, in other words, that I just didn’t pay close attention. But total unjustifiable reversal of expectations? That just p!sses me off. 🙂

    Hehehe, good point. No one wants that “out of your a$$” surprise; that’s just … well, no one wants that. So nice caveat there. 🙂

  5. One other thing I thought of: you know that old line about if a gun is hanging on the wall in Act 1, it has to go off by Act 3? (Something like that.) A couple thoughts:

    (1) The gun’s got to be there from the start. You can’t suddenly hang it there belatedly as a convenient “explanation” when it fires.

    (2) BUT the other side of the story is, you also can’t make the gun too obvious. You don’t want a character in Act 1 going, like, “Wow, I see you’ve got a gun mounted on your wall!” Otherwise, guess what? You just blew Act 3. 🙂

    True enough, but TOO subtle might mean not giving sufficient clues. The gun can’t blend into the woodwork and then be revealed as a gun later, either. So another tightrope for writers, perhaps? Heh.

  6. Nothing ticks me off more than when a character does something, well, out of character just for a storyline. If a writer spends time creating a character with a set of values and standards, don’t make them forfeit their values just to move the story. People don’t change that much in real life and they shouldn’t in fiction either.

    What about literary fiction, though, wherein all the changes occur within a character?

    E.g., A sweet, loving, gentle uncle goes on the run from circumstances with his abandoned niece, and returns to the farm where his abusive father still lives. When the abuse continues right where it left off the following morning, the young man plays his appointed role like he never left home. But when the grandfather turns his abusive hand on the niece, the uncle turns murderous. Not in his character initially, but he kills to protect his charge. Does that violate the rule you’ve got set forth here, or will that work because there is sufficient reason to allow it to do so? (Saw that movie, btw; didn’t come up with it myself.)

    • That is an acceptable change.

      I’m thinking of what happened with Zach Addy on ‘Bones’. He was a scientist in a crime lab and suddenly one day he decided to be the helper of a serial killer. The creators wanted him off the show so they came up with that storyline in order for him to go to the looney bin. It was completely illogical in every way if you knew the character. A better choice would have been for him to take a job in a different lab or burn out due to all the murder and mayhem.

      Ah. I never watched “Bones” but I did watch Star Trek: The Next Generation, and they did some pretty awful things with some of their characters too. Sounds similar.

  7. If the sweet uncle goes on a killing spree, that still has got to be in his character somewhere. Literary is not an excuse for not paying attention or tossing continuity to the ocean waves. I like a surprise that is right. I don’t want to fool readers and I don’t want to be fooled. Fooling is insulting. Surprising=good. Fooling=bad. And I don’t want to be right if that means predictable and tired and cliched.

    I guess I have a hard time telling the difference between surprising and fooling a reader; I’ll have to cogitate on that for a bit. And sweet uncle didn’t go on a killing spree; he just killed his father. After that, no mo’ killin’.

    But you also can’t count on readers to be the same. You wrote on my post that you feel a story in your brain. See-you’re thinking. I doubt I could surprise you because your brain is on. I’m endlessly surprised by movies because I don’t think about the story, I just feel it. Neither way is best–they are different ways. And someone is always going to want to say you didn’t surprise them. And some readers are just so slow on the uptake anything would surprise them. Write what you want.

    Oh, you’d be amazed how easy I am to surprise in a book. For some reason, I can’t seem to think my way through an entire book. Movies? Piece o’ cake. TV shows? Pff — please. But books? Nuh-uh, nothin’ doing. You’d be able to surprise me. I’d feel your story after finishing it in my brain, but I’d be pretty average in analysis, if not sub-par.

    It doesn’t have to be either/or, does it? Maybe for this one particular story it does, but that isn’t a constant problem, is it? Maybe you should see how you could make a character true and surprise the reader.

    No, for this story I think it does have to be one or the other. My loving spouse says she’d rather be right. I think the surprise packs more story-punch potential. That sparked the question. 🙂 In other stories, I don’t know if there’s an either/or requirement; that’s how I tend to think (both/and thinking is not only beyond me but kinda distasteful for reasons I won’t get into here).

    Or maybe a combination. I think (could be oh so wrong) that most readers like a few familiar things, but don’t want to be bored. Don’t overdo the surprise or the rightness.

    Hmm … interesting idea there.

    I was thinking about giving examples of when I was surprised by a story, but then figured you wouldn’t’ve been surprised at all and I don’t want to feel dumb. I’m gullible as it is. But think about the stories that did surprise you, and break them down. Why did it surprise you? What was right? Even if it surprised you, going back over the story, can you see were the groundwork was laid for the ending?

    I don’t mean to make anyone feel dumb; if you met me in person this wouldn’t be a problem. You’d see I’m about as intelligent as a box of hammers. And I do like thinking about stories which surprised or fooled me, and so far, I haven’t been able to decipher the why. I’ll keep looking though. 🙂

    Have fun with your story whatever you do.

    Not sure I’ll ever write again. But if I do, I’ll try and have fun. 🙂 Thanks!

    • Well, some situations are either/or and some aren’t. I just tend to resent the two options. Maybe I’m more of a this/this/that/that/or this other thing plus that sort of person.

      I think it’s interesting that you resent options. I resent NOT having any. It takes all kinds to make a world, don’t it? 🙂

      As for surprise or fool… If I throw a surprise party for a friend, that’s is good. That’s surprise. If I want to get someone to think she’s been voted prom queen and dump pig’s blood on her head, that’s fooling. Not so good. So, I see the difference as the first one does fool me in a way, but just to make me enjoy the story more. The second one is definitely fooling me, but to make the writer feel clever at my expense.

      Ah, leave it to Stephen King to provide the ultimate case example. Thanks for the clarity.

      • To add–I don’t resent options. I resent limited options under certain circumstances. Sometimes life is easier with fewer options. Like coffee or tea? It is easier than coffee, tea, lemonade, diet Coke, Sprite, juice, wine, water, on and on. But then in other areas of life I want more options, or at least more ability to mix options.

        Yeah, not a fan of limited options myself. Like ’em wide open, in most areas. While I may be overwhelmed by them all, I like the idea of having them. 🙂

        That’s it. I’m starting to confuse myself so I’ll stop trying to explain.

        Okay. 🙂 Thanks for offering clarity.

  8. I have to say I like to be surprised myself… I think a perfect example is the KILL BILL movies… the Bride’s confrontation with Bill is nothing that I expected and it was all the better for it.

    There’s an example I didn’t expect! 🙂

    But that being said the story still followed the general structure of a revenge action film.

    I think sometimes you have to be true to your own ideas, even if they’re flawed.

    I don’t know if there’s anything else TO do. 🙂

  9. I think every writer just has to write their own style and trust it’ll work.

    I’m not sure I HAVE a style, though. I think that’s one of the reasons I’ve stopped writing; I don’t know HOW to do it. Good to see you again!

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