A photo I took in the Dingle area of Ireland while on study abroad.

That's not snow; it's a low cloud over the mountain.

Recently, I started tutoring a student in AP European History. Last week, we discussed the years between the world wars.

You probably know that for several hundred years, Ireland was ruled by the English. My student's class notes mention several stages on Ireland's road to independence that occurred during this time:

  • 1916: The Easter Rebellion. The leaders are arrested and executed.

  • 1919: The Irish Republican Army and its political party declare independence. War breaks out, with Irish unionists plus the British on one side and the Irish who favor independence on the other.

  • 1922: The Irish Free State is formed but is still ruled by the British.

  • 1939 to 1945: World War II in Europe. The Irish Free State stays neutral.

  • 1949: The Irish Free State becomes a republic.

My point is that we often see big events, such as independence movements or the rise of a dictator, as things that happen in one fell swoop. But most of the time, they happen in steps. There are numerous small triumphs and big setbacks and vice versa along the way. The outcome is almost never certain, though it often appears that way in hindsight.

That's something that should happen in our writing, too. When the love interests suddenly fall head over heels for each other or a natural disaster occurs without warning (earthquakes being a notable exception), readers feel cheated. If there's going to be a big change or event in the story, we need to show the steps that lead to that outcome. Have the girl notice that she enjoys the sound of the guy's laugh. Have the guy be impressed with the girl's insight during a group discussion. Have the characters hear news reports about the approach of a hurricane, or (especially in a low-tech society) have the characters notice the wind picking up and the clouds turning dark over several days.

Small surprises are fine. But make the surprise too big, and the readers will be frustrated instead of entertained.

Write on,


P.S. If you'd like someone to bounce ideas off of while we're all stuck inside, click here to book a consultation call with me.