Writing Tip #8 Defy expectations

Richard ArthurWriting



This is the latest article from Neil on writing. If you want to create compelling, unputdownable writing. And feel fulfilled by the process, read on below:

I’m sharing this next tip as a Bonus, because it’s not essential but it’s a good tool to be aware of. It makes a big difference. This one is useful when you’re writing a book, giving a lecture, or even on a date or with a partner. Basically anywhere paying attention is involved. As always, some discernment is needed to recognize when it will serve the occasion.

Before the book, article, speech, or discussion begins, in most cases, everyone knows what it’s going to be about.

Don’t jump right in with your thesis or idea at the beginning, unless you want to cost yourself an opportunity.

An opportunity to prove yourself as a master craftsperson and storyteller.

So instead I encourage you to…

Bonus Tip #1: Begin somewhere unexpected. 

When I was writing Jenna Jameson’s biography, I knew that readers expected a book about sex and sexuality.

What they didn’t expect was murder.

I began the book with a story about Jenna discovering a close friend of hers dead in the shower and her suspicions that one of the most evil people she’d ever met was responsible.

So if you bought the book to hear tales of her life as an adult film star, obviously you are going to get those.

Yet now there’s an unexpected murder mystery and another reason to read the book.

If you have absolutely no interest in Jenna or the industry she’s in, but you read the first couple of pages online or a friend recommended the book, you’re hooked. Her story is more than what you thought it was.

And isn’t it great to defy expectations?

Start off experimenting with opening your work with a story, observation, or detail your reader or listener never saw coming.

Prove to them (literally, in some cases) that you can’t judge a book by it’s cover…

In addition to adding the element of surprise…

You are building the reader’s trust in you as a storyteller.

In the subtext, you’ve made them a promise to be interesting…

(Which, if you recall, is our cardinal rule of writing.)

And then, of course, you have to continue to artfully keep that promise…

Note that there are many ways to do this:

You can begin with a story that subverts expectations or is set somewhere surprising, as in the Jenna Jameson example or you can start somewhere emotionally unexpected, as with the start of The Game. Begin by throwing the reader into the middle of a larger-than-life story with almost no context, as in The Dirt. You could begin with an unrelated idea that is intrinsically interesting and then connects to the theme at the end.

If you’re doing a talk on Bitcoin, for example, you might begin by talking about Banksy and then land on the idea of anonymity being a defining feature of the disruptive revolutions of this era.

In summary, start with the unexpected, except when the unexpected is expected.

For a previous tip, click here: https://www.neilstrauss.com/writing/addictiveunputdownablewriting/