I have a hard time reading in public, because I’m very… let’s say interactive with my reading. I make faces, I get up and pace, I yell at the characters, I (carefully place a bookmark on my page and then) hurl the book across the room.
It’s such a common practice for me that I sometimes forget that not everybody else acts that way all the time. I was talking to a less violent reader about it, who had this to say:
Stacy: I have done that in two other cases. One: reading Lord of the Rings. Two: reading Red Dragon by Thomas Harris. // It is like the story itself slaps you with an unexpected left hook. And you are all glass jaw and feelings.
Me: I’m curious– which part of the The Lord of the Rings got to you?
Stacy: Sam facing Shelob. // He yells Elvish and it is a miracle that he knows it. // And then Tolkien is all “by the way, this monster is older than Elves and finds the attempt adorably useless”. // And I screamed at Sam because he doesn’t know. // Elves are everything. And good. And like a secret crazy weapon. So good vibes that Sam has that. Then… dashed.
I hear a lot of advice about surprising a reader by doing the unexpected, and about using dramatic irony to build suspense. Usually those pieces of advice are in completely different conversations, but they can come together beautifully to leave the reader completely shattered– as Stacy put it– all glass jaw and feelings.
- Use gut punches like this sparingly– they’re most effective when they’re unexpected.
- Look at the rhythm of your scenes. Some scenes are obviously building up to a big shock, and so the reader is likely already bracing for impact before it strikes.
- This is one of those situations where mood whiplash would come in handy.
- Even if gut punches are effective, they won’t affect everyone equally. Make sure the scene is strong enough to be plausible even if the reader isn’t caught up by shock.