Cultivate the Gap and Watch Your Readers’ Eyebrows Bounce

expectations gapWhen my youngest was a wee lad, there was a period when I knew I was failing him as a parent. Day after day, from the moment I woke him up to take him to the sitter’s until I tucked him into bed (for the last time), we were locked in one power struggle after another.

I wanted him to have a playful, imaginative childhood, yet the word I uttered with the most frequency was no.

Worse, while I retained the upper hand, I was under no illusion that would persist. Short of formal therapy, I’d already exhausted every resource at my disposal. I’d bent The ToolMaster’s ear whenever he could call from his enforced work absence. I combined his advice with that gleaned from seasoned and skillful parents. I’d worked on my reactivity and consistency, picked my battles, used time-outs, positive reinforcement, logical consequences, yada yada.

Still, it seemed that my son knew all my moves and counter-moves in advance, could push me to the limit, so I was always on the cusp of acting more childlike than him. It was a discouraging, humbling experience and ironic, given that my patients often thanked me for my parenting counsel.

But one hot July evening, as my son and I launched into our post-dinner script, I clutched a new, secret weapon to my breast.

A Hero in a Red Sports Car

It came courtesy of Dr. G, whom I’d been fortunate to meet at a conference on spirituality in medicine. A Corvette-driving, six-foot-tall woman in her early sixties, G’s practice was devoted to cognitive behavioral therapy. She was good at it, too — so much so that she was under contract to provide mental health services to the province’s physicians. (Doctors make extra-demanding patients because of challenges around vulnerability and trust.)

I don’t recall confiding in her about my worries, but G was full of entertaining stories. At some point in our luncheons together, she talked about hamster-wheel relationships and how she worked with clients to shift them. She had plenty of examples — all anonymous or derived from her personal life — and I glommed onto them.

The principle was radically simple: When stuck in a scripted relationship, disrupt the pattern. Do something fresh, something completely unexpected so that neither party can return to the previous relationship trajectory. (She never said as much, but by her examples and common sense, I understood this to exclude anything destructive, disrespectful, or cruel. In other words, follow the Golden Rule.)

So it was, on that sweltering July evening, when Frank and I began another of our tussles over the bedtime routine, that I had a different consequence to use when he refused my request to go up for his bath. My inspiration? Marilyn Monroe’s solution to the heat in her movie The Seven Year Itch.

“Frank, it’s bedtime, ” I said again. “We need to go upstairs now. If you choose not to listen, there will be consequences.”

This time, when his response was a version of Make me, I had enough emotional distance to notice his reaction without tensing further. I could see his half-triumphant, half-fearful face, how he was waiting for the next step in Mommy’s escalation.

I said nothing. I left him behind in the kitchen and moseyed up to his room. I reached into the top drawer of his dresser, grabbed an object, took my time descending the stairs and navigating the hallway back into the kitchen. And as a puzzled frown blossomed on his face, with Frank’s complete and utter attention focused upon what I held in my hand, I opened the freezer door and dropped in a pair of clean underpants.

For an extra dose of unpredictability, I flopped onto the kitchen floor and lay supine.

“Mommy?” His voice sounded tremulous, uncertain.

I didn’t answer. I smiled and tried to look relaxed, as if staring at a cobwebbed ceiling was the natural post-dinner activity of all up-and-coming moms. But my heart was pounding. Would it be enough? After all these months of difficulty, could a pair of sub-zero tighty-whities create the relationship-altering changes I craved?

It seemed to take forever, but eventually I felt Frank’s two small hands on my cheeks, turning me toward him. When I saw his expression — confusion, uncertainty, with a spark of dawning humor — I knew we were going to be okay.

Applying Unpredictability to Story

Are you sometimes confounded by story terms, or do you have trouble applying them to your fiction? I do. Until last month, if you asked me to explain the significance of the above event, I’d describe it as a turning point in our relationship without really hearing that I was using a writing term. (For that evening birthed a different dynamic — one that was kinder and gentler to us both.)

But in a Robert McKee lecture last month, my adventure in frozen underpants came back to me. I realized it formed a real life example of a Turning Point and explained why those moments in the kitchen felt so profound. Maybe these other points from McKee’s Story seminar will help the concept gel for you:

  • Readers go to fiction and audiences to film in order to have their expectations reversed, McKee says. They don’t go to a story to experience more of what they already understand. They have life for that. They want to experience a burst of insight, laugh at something they’ve never before found funny, quake before a threat that previously felt insipid.
  • There can be no story without turning points. In fact, the gap between expectation and reality comprises the substance of story, which is why it can be sung, danced, mimed, cartooned, or given any artistic form which unfurls over a span of time. You might write a beautiful, illuminating, transcendent work of prose, but unless it includes turning points, you’ve created a portraiture of life, not a story.
  • Since we understand the story through the eyes of a character, it must be the character who’s first surprised by the gap between reality and expectation. When their universe pushes back in ways they don’t anticipate, they are forced to pivot, forced to adapt. (Some call this the Oh shit! moment.)
  • You’ll know you’re on track by watching your readers’ faces. Turning points release a burst of kinetic energy in an audience, so watch for bouncing eyebrows.
  • It’s important to understand your readers’ expectations within your story’s genre. Unless you want your book to become a projectile, you don’t want to accidentally write a genre-violating turning point or omit an essential one. (Imagine a romance without a commitment scene or an action-adventure story where the hero doesn’t outsmart the villain.) At the same time, once you understand a genre’s expectations, you can purposefully subvert them to create a profound effect in your readers.
  • Lastly, within the constraints of your world and your characters’ personalities, work to create the unexpected on a beat-by-beat, scene-by-scene, act-by-act basis. Don’t restrict change, insight, and adaptation to the climax. Until that moment — until you’ve cultivated the gap between expectation and reality in ways both small and large and seeded throughout your manuscript — you’re just another struggling “professional” having your butt handed to you by a four-year-old child.

Now it’s your turn, Unboxeders. I’d love to hear what you know about Turning Points and opening up the gap between expectation and reality. What books or movies do this particularly well? Is this intuitive for you, or a skill you’re developing?

For more in this series: Part II, Part III


About Jan O'Hara

Jan O'Hara left her writing dreams behind for years to practice family medicine, but has found her way back to the world of fiction. Currently the voice of the Unpublished Writer here at Writer Unboxed, she hopes one day soon to become unqualified for the position.


  1. says

    **What books or movies do this particularly well?**

    This may seem like a strange choice, but a movie that did an excellent turn-around imo, was the b-style movie Deep Blue Sea.

    [Spoiler Alert] The movie built up a central character, making it seem like they would lead the team throughout the perils, but then snatched them away unexpectedly.

    It was a twist in the tail (fin?) that no-one saw coming…
    Katherine James´s last blog post ..How To Blast Through Writers Block

  2. says

    this resonates on lots of levels. I have a 2 yr old grandchild who has discovered ‘no’, which harkens me back to when my daughter discovered same. When I stumbled upon the discovery of surprising her with the unexpected (Not sure how. Desperation, maybe?), things lightened up considerably! I love when a writer does this to me in a story. I’ve been watching re-runs of House on Netflix to rest my brain after writing. The good doctor is all about the unexpected. Changing directions. Switching gears. Pissing people off who you really want to keep loving him. Thanks for a great post!
    Susan Setteducato´s last blog post ..Susan’s Blog

  3. says

    I once took McKee’s workshop (not really a workshop, more like a lecture) and was enthralled by the way he opened my eyes to looking through the characters’ eyes, the whole issue of gaps, reversals, inciting incident, real life vs fiction, etc. Years later, when I saw Tootsie, which remains one of my all-time favorite movies, it was a great example. I never thought about “gap” in relationship to my granddaughter, but now I do!

    By the way, the parent-child tangle you describe reminds me of Harriet Lerner’s The Dance of Anger whose point was that, in a dance, you can’t change your partner’s steps, you can only change your own, and that often leads to a different dance.
    Carole Howard´s last blog post ..Welcome!

  4. says

    Underpants in the freezer? Adding that to my parental arsenal.

    Breaking the pattern works well for me and my kid. His acting out has its basis in fear. When you’ve been neglected, starved, abandoned and relocated without warning, transition times (e.g., bath-before-bed) stir levels of terror I can only imagine.

    For him silliness equals safety, so breaking the pattern with something goofy allows him to reset his brain.

    Readers are like kids, a little. “Give them what they want” (what they expect) and you get dull resistance. Change it up and, paradoxically, readers reset their brains.

    Countless authors create that openness in readers by pushing their protagonists to do the unthinkable or make impossible choices. Jay Gatsby throws era-defining parties simply to attract Daisy. Scouts sits with the Negroes during Tom Robinson’s trial. Guy Montag, a fireman who burns literature, steals and reads a book.

    I wish more protagonists in more manuscripts put underwear in the freezer. What great bedtime reading we’d have. But then, why not? What’s stopping everyone?


    Breaking the pattern, as you found, Jan, requires doing the impossible even while feeling terrified inside. Authors have it easy. They only have to do that with characters, not real live children.
    Donald Maass´s last blog post ..2014 Writers of the Future Award

    • says

      “Reset the brain” is likely more than metaphor, as I’m sure you know, Don. Play uses a different part of the brain than fear. As for the darker turning points, they wake us up. “You thought you were in relative safety before, coping with a new normal? Boy, do I have something for you.”

      The challenge, of course, is to remember this and apply it in the thick of parenting and writing. Thank goodness we have the ability to apologize and edit.
      Jan O’Hara´s last blog post ..A Note to My Zesties (+ Writer Unboxed Redirect)

    • Marilyn says

      Thank you for the examples. I think I need them to make sure I am on the same page.

  5. says

    Cool that you got to see McKee, Boss. Pressfield sings his praises on a regular basis.

    Hmmm, bouncing eyebrows, eh? The only reader I’ve had a chance to watch would be my wife. And, for fear of being forced into frozen tighty-whities, I will not make any jokes about enjoying watching any part of her bouncing. Seriously, I wouldn’t know. When she’s reading my stuff, I try not to look at her. Or to even look at how far along she is when we’re reading side by side. So I suppose it’s my eyebrows that bounce.

    Love these tips, Jan. I’m working in the shop today, so I’m printing them out. Great fodder for shop pondering. Thank you!
    Vaughn Roycroft´s last blog post ..Chatting With A Hero – A Video Interview of Therese Walsh

    • says

      It was Pressfield’s post which alerted me to McKee’s class, V. We have the same excellent taste in teachers.

      There is a written equivalent to bouncing eyebrows, because not all of us can stomach watching our readers, and not all betas are willing to be put under a microscope: Ask Mo to put an exclamation mark next to anything she finds particularly surprising.
      Jan O’Hara´s last blog post ..A Note to My Zesties (+ Writer Unboxed Redirect)

  6. says

    Wonderful post, Jan.
    I love the unexpected. It’s refreshing. Sometimes while writing, I pause and consider the usual response, and then ponder what could be different, more interesting. It makes writing more fun for me–so why wouldn’t a reader enjoy it, too? We are, after all, our first readers. You did an awesome job of breaking it down and I learned something new.

  7. says

    When I’m writing I love it the characters do what THEY least expect, surprising themselves in addition to (I hope) the readers.

    My personal real-life turning points have often taken me by surprise, my realization often only in retrospect. So when that happens to a character, it feels authentic to me.

    Thanks for the reminders, Jan.

  8. says

    I love this whole post, Jan — and my boy may find some frozen underwear in his future!

    In terms of shattering expectations, The Sixth Sense did it for me as a movie, and The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier as a novel. Both went in directions I hadn’t even considered.

    • says

      LOL. Good luck to you and your son, Liz. If you try it, you’ll have to tell me how it works out.

      Sadly, probably because I’d heard so much about The Sixth Sense containing a twist ending, I’d figured it out long before it arrived. I haven’t heard of the Brockmeier book, though. Thanks for the reference.
      Jan O’Hara´s last blog post ..A Note to My Zesties (+ Writer Unboxed Redirect)

  9. says

    I had the pleasure once. I asked a friend if she would read something for me, and handed her a prologue, 143 words, that I had finally decided was what my novel in progress needed (a very hard decision – prologues are fraught).

    It had a disclaimer at the top, “This is fiction.”

    She blew through the reading, completely missed the disclaimer, and looked up, wide-eyed, to ask me if it was true. Surprise achieved. The prologue stayed.

    Movie? The Clearing (Robert Redford and Helen Mirren). You only find out at the very end that your expectations of the story being in the timeline for both main characters is false. And that makes all the difference.

    And, for writing scenes, when I find myself bored with some scene that seems a set piece, a dutiful stepping stone, I ask myself that very question: where is the surprise for the reader – and the scene gets much better.

    Thanks for the lovely stories – and the image of frozen underwear. Poor child – I wonder if he thought he was going to have to wear them that way? Parenting is quite a trip.
    Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt´s last blog post ..Added PRIDE’S CHILDREN – Chapter 12, Scene 4

    • says

      Re The Clearing: Interesting! I can see how the expectation of merging timelines would cause a viewer/reader to spin possibilities that would never exist. A great technique for diversion.

      I love the phrase “a dutiful stepping stone”. That’s exactly what I’ve been writing the last few days. Time to step into the stream.

      As for my son, yes, before my “intervention”, one of my worries was that it would make things worse, because you can never predict what will happen when you jolt yourself out of a rut. Would he lose whatever faith he had in me as a place of safety, etc? I think what made it work was that I felt the absurdity of my position on the floor. Because I was poised to laugh at life, rather than at him, he had permission to be silly as well.
      Jan O’Hara´s last blog post ..A Note to My Zesties (+ Writer Unboxed Redirect)

  10. Tom Combs says

    “Usual Suspects” and “Sixth Sense” utilized expectatio flip on a macro-level.
    Have to toss out a recommendation for a child support book that shares insight like your colleague – “how to talk so your children will listen and listen so your children will talk” by Adele Faber and E Mazlish. Eye-opening and brilliant in its simple wisdom

  11. says

    Fantastic! I love how you got the idea to do something different to shake up the pattern from both cognitive therapy and one of McKee’s lectures. As a former therapist and now a writer, I found this post to be a wonderful reminder of how throwing in the unexpected can stimulate change for the better. Surprise is always exciting to read in a story
    Diana Stevan´s last blog post ..Jumping into the Fray of Self-Publishing

  12. says

    Breaking the script — that way of putting it clicked on a light in my brain that hadn’t been there before. Thank you!

    I look forward to creating some situation with my teenagers that might involve putting their underwear in the freezer. It’ll require some work on my part, but I have faith in myself — it’s just too good to waste. When my kids were young, I’d now and then send myself to my room, instead of them, which they found both hilarious and strange enough that it’d interrupt our bad afternoon (it was always the afternoon) and things would be good after that.
    Natalie Hart´s last blog post ..Sometimes Fields Need To Be Fallow

  13. says

    This is a fantastic post! I adore your underpants story. It’s pretty hard to make me laugh before I’ve finished my first cup of coffee, but you’ve managed to do it. :) The advice for writing is wonderful as well. The part that really hit home for me was this: “You might write a beautiful, illuminating, transcendent work of prose, but unless it includes turning points, you’ve created a portraiture of life, not a story.” I have seen this done (and yes, at times done it myself) so many times, but I’ve never had quite the right arsenal of knowledge and vocabulary to explain it so well as you have here. Thank you for that!
    Annie Neugebauer´s last blog post ..Titling Poems

  14. says

    Underpants in the freezer. Definitely stowing that one away. My baby has Early Onset Toddlerhood so I’m preparing myself for quite an… interesting time raising him. ;)

    But otherwise great advice. Personally I love to be surprised as a reader. When I can see where the story is going, I get bored and put the book down. Like you said, I’ve got life for that. What I want in a book is imagination and surprise. ‘

    Also, as a writer, I love to surprise myself and my characters. it keeps things interesting! :)
    Sarah E. A. Fusaro´s last blog post ..{Monday Morsels} A Circle of Quiet and Squishy Kid Lit

  15. Bernadette Phipps-Lincke says

    Underpants in the freezer? Good one. A turning point is a memorable moment, no?

    Spoiler Alert!!!

    One of the most shocking turning points for me was in the A Song of Ice and Fire series in the first book Game of Thrones, when Ed Stark was beheaded. It had a domino effect on the whole forthcoming series, and had my emotions in upheaval. Shocking, but it worked emotionally, and technically too, to push story forward. For me and millions of readers, and now viewers.

    There’s power in turning points.

    • says

      Yes, that scene had a lot of resonance, didn’t it, B? With a single axe stroke came the declaration “there are no safe characters”. With Joffrey’s continued taunting of Sansa, we’re never allowed to forget, either. So a turning point gives mood, subtext, and fodder for conflict for the thousands of pages that follow. Now that’s a turning point worth having.
      Jan O’Hara´s last blog post ..A Note to My Zesties (+ Writer Unboxed Redirect)

  16. says

    “You don’t want to accidentally write a genre-violating turning point or omit an essential one.” This almost seems contrary to the main point of doing something fresh and unexpected, but there is that fine line you toe, a line that seems to be constantly moving. I wrote an erotic romance with a single girl-on-girl scene that was met with mixed reviews. The readers who loved it said they loved it because it was fresh and unexpected. Another book with a brief but important turning moment of infidelity between a married couple (that helped them grow closer together in the end) didn’t get past my editor’s first review. Infidelity? No! I’ll always push to deliver the underwear in the freezer moments, even knowing that they will sometimes just tick off some readers or hit a brick wall. Wonderful, insightful post!

    So, did the underpants in the freezer get him to go to bed?

    • says

      “So, did the underpants in the freezer get him to go to bed?”

      LOL. Thank you for asking. Yes, he went to bed but he had a different mom to tuck him in, because that moment was a watershed event for me. Before the freezer, I’d been ground down and thought the only thing that could help us would be hours of counseling. Given my time constraints, I’d make it happen, but that would add yet another stress to a challenging period. After the freezer, I knew the shift I needed to make and we began a positive feedback loop, where each small success fueled a larger one.

      As to your larger point, yes, the key word in the sentence you highlighted is “accidentally”. McKee himself says you can break genre tropes, but he advises you only do it on purpose, when you’re after a specific effect. (As you’ve no doubt discovered, that contravention tends to create strong emotion in your readers.)
      Jan O’Hara´s last blog post ..A Note to My Zesties (+ Writer Unboxed Redirect)

  17. says

    I’ve been reading a lot of YA lately as I feel my writing career pull me in that direction. I’m pleasantly surprised at how well these YA authors completely surprise me at the end of their stories. A recent favorite was “The Astonishing Adventures of Gothgirl and Fanboy.” Silly title, deep subject. I had fully expected a happy ending, where “Fanboy” and “Gothgirl” ended up together, two outcasts who found each other. No way. By book’s end, they were miles apart. But it was a happy ending, that’s the odd thing. Lessons were learned, and even those were unexpected, and both characters got exactly what they needed, though far from what they originally wanted. Loved it. This and other YA books are showing me that teen readers won’t settle for the obvious and predictable.
    Ron Estrada´s last blog post ..What Are We Celebrating?

    • says

      That’s encouraging to hear, Ron. I have friends whose literary diet consists almost entirely of YA, and they’re sounding rather jaded at present. Maybe it’s down to their reading choices.

      I’m reading another of Rainbow Rowell’s books at present, and in it, too, she has a deft way of creating that expectations-gap.
      Jan O’Hara´s last blog post ..A Note to My Zesties (+ Writer Unboxed Redirect)

  18. Priya Gill says

    Lovely post Jan.

    On multiple levels. As a mom of a near four year old (he turns 4 in a month) I know exactly how frustrating the power struggles are and how every night I resolve not to get mad and let him set his pace…only until next morning when it alls resets with my red face and angry voice sneaking in. Will try the advice of doing something unexpected. Maybe we’ll have a turning point soon too.

    Now switching hats from mommy hat to writer hat, so true that stories that feel same old same old seem so flat (even though it might be more familiar or easy to connect to). It’s the unexpected turning points that lave me thinking about a story long after the last page is read and the book catalogued back in the shelf or iPad or wherever. And the authors that bring in those twists best are the most inspiring. Thanks for the reminder about one of the key ingredients of a great story – the unexpected twist.

    • says

      “It’s the unexpected turning points that lave me thinking about a story long after the last page is read and the book catalogued back in the shelf or iPad or wherever.”

      This is true for me, too. I’ve read books where the set-up is fresh, the conflict promises to be amazing, yet after the first chapters, it all feels familiar, almost inevitable. That’s not what we want for our fiction.

      Good luck with your little man, Priya. I have a hunch you’re going to be fine. ;)
      Jan O’Hara´s last blog post ..A Note to My Zesties (+ Writer Unboxed Redirect)

  19. says

    I enjoyed your post greatly, but what really created a ton of connections in my brain was your response to Don Maass’s comment. (And if I’ve messed up the possessive, I’m sorry – but I don’t have time to go search the correct version.)

    You mention how play comes from a different part of our brains. I’ve been reading quite a bit about creativity and mindfulness this school year, and it’s been fascinating. Combined with my own experiences with play, and when I read your response, I just had a moment of recognition. Any of the creativity we experience as human’s originates early on out of play. Play is how children sort out the world, and creativity is how adults do the same. Books, movies, etc… all contribute to our organization of our lives to some extent. So, those turning points make that organization enjoyable because it’s unexpected – the author playing with creativity and with the reader.

    I love coming up with a new way for things to happen in the story. The path must be recognizable, but mode of transportation is only limited by our imagination. And then, when our imagination (aka. muse) makes connections even we weren’t anywhere near contemplating – well, that’s just magic!

    I have no idea if I made any sense, but I appreciate your post for drawing some lines between random thoughts I’ve been having. It’s nice when they all start to line up. :)
    Lara Schiffbauer´s last blog post ..Funny Friday Photos: Have You Seen a Naked Bear?

    • says

      Lara, I wonder if there might be two or more reward mechanisms at work. I suspect if we are deep within a character’s viewpoint and they suffer through a difficult turning point and don’t resolve it, the creative part of the brain might shut down. On the other hand, children (and adults) definitely use play to work through traumatic experiences. Maybe the brain rewards this through relief of fear rather than through the rush of pleasure that a positive turning point might create. In other words, I don’t know, but it makes sense that we would be wired this way.

      I love it when knowledge begins to unify!
      Jan O’Hara´s last blog post ..A Note to My Zesties (+ Writer Unboxed Redirect)

  20. Poeticus says

    Gustav Freytag’s _Technique of the Drama_ went out of print circa 1925, the German original and the English translation. The book re-emerged in print 2008. Many interpretations, many erroneous, of the now famous Freytag pyramid appeared in the meantime.

    In the text, Freytag locates several major turning points, also known as major dramatic turns, the so-called twists and surpises, like underpants in the freezer, that excite readers. The 2007 first digitized edition of an English translation copy from the University of Toronto is available at Paraphrases below are from “Construction of the Drama” pages 114 through 140.

    Freytag locates in dramatic works five parts bridged by intervening excitement forces. The five parts: introduction, rising movement, climax, falling movement, and catastrophe acts. The first turn Freytag labels the exciting force, a crisis moment when a protagonist is compelled by events to act to satisfy a dramatic complication. That turn straddles the introduction and rise acts.

    Second turn Freytag labels tragic force, a turn that counteracts whatever the climax act reduces doubt of in terms of outcome. It straddles the climax and fall acts. The climax act in Freytag’s sense is a narrative principle and not a reader emotional climax, which ideally occurs at the third turn of his three turns.

    Third turn, Freytag labels the force of the final suspense. This third turn sets up the unequivocal outcome of a main dramatic complication, the catasrophe act as Freytag labels it, the denouement, generally, whether for a classic tragedy, comedy, both, or other, as in bildungsroman. Like the other turns, this too is a force turn, moment of crisis, excitement, incitement, revelation, and reversal.

    I find well-structured and crafted narratives have several other major turn locations. The first is the initial rupture moment of emotional disequilibrium portrayed in an introduction act. The next turn is the exciting force, also called inciting moment, incident, turn, twist, or crisis. The next turn spans between the rising action act and the climax act; it’s a realization of the full import of a dramatic complication. Label it the realization force, or such.

    The tragic force is already mentioned above, as is the final force. Yet one more major turn takes place in the “catastrophe” act, the denouement act, to cover all possible outcomes, not just tragedy; that is, a satisfying return to emotional equilibrium.

    Though Freytag’s treatise ostensibly applies to stage play dramas, the same structural and aesthetic principles apply equally as well to written-word prose. Even short stories of a few hundred or thousand words loosely incorporate five acts and six act-bridging turns, or novel or even series or N-ology. Each act is also, regardless of overall length, loosely equal in word count proportions to each other act.

    This above fits with the idea of underpants in the freezer comparing to a major dramatic turn: up to at least one emotionally appreciable surprise per act and a maximum of six total major ones. How many minor surprises is equivalent to number of scene sequences, at least one each sequence. For example, a minor sequence surprise: a shy suitor opens a door for an unwitting love interest and follows along behind. More subtle yet, the act of opening the door may be symbolic of opening an as yet unbegun relationship.

    I’ve been pleasantly suprised to find, comparing this theory to narratives I’ve enjoyed, and life complications too, of any length, or satisfied, fits the dramatic structure closely, like a tailored suit. But structure and its aesthetic conventions are but one of many principles for artfully creating entertaining prose.

    • says

      Poeticus, between your source material and the depth of this comment, you sound like a story scholar. Wow. I love some of the terms you’ve used as an alternate nomenclature. “Exciting force” sounds molecular and…well, poetic. Thanks for taking the time to introduce us/me to Freytag.
      Jan O’Hara´s last blog post ..A Note to My Zesties (+ Writer Unboxed Redirect)

  21. says

    Fantastic way to express the concept. As writers we sometimes forget that not everyone knows the lingo.

    I have a scene in my current WIP where both the main character and the creature she’s afraid of use those exact words (Oh, shit) right before their relationship changes. The gap principle works.

  22. says

    I wrote a long response the other day, but it apparently disappeared into internetlandia….

    So let me just say that when my 3 year old pushed my buttons (again) today and instead of losing my temper with him, I threw a teddy bear at him and started a stuffed animal fight that ranged throughout the bedrooms and out into the back yard, I had you to thank for it.

    Here’s to the unexpected.
    Jo Eberhardt´s last blog post ..The Myth of the Helpless Female

  23. says

    Jan – This is brilliant on many counts! It brought back memories of my high school years, when my best friend would do her best to disorient me whenever she spent the night. Once I woke up to find every picture on the walls of our house tipped just slightly (she knew crooked pictures drove me nuts), another time I woke up to find myself covered in silver dragees (cake decorations, sometimes called hundreds and thousands), and the most memorable of all – the time I go up in the morning to find every bra I owned had been soaked in water and placed in the freezer.

    (Yes, we’re still friends after all these years. I can’t remember if I reciprocated with similar torments.) My son was a challenge and we also had a defining moment-slash-turning point. I’ll tell you about it sometime, offline.

    Thanks for giving me the incentive to try some new twists on the stories I’m revising. This is just what I needed!

    • says

      I’d love to know how she became such a creative prankster. Did her entire family carry on in that vein, or was it all her? Either way, hilarious, Becke! Funny that she’d have picked an underwear/freezer scenario, too.

      Your parenting story can wait for a private venue, but I hope I get to hear it.

      Lastly, good! Get on those revisions. ;)
      Jan O’Hara´s last blog post ..A Note to My Zesties (+ Writer Unboxed Redirect)