The fun can range from someone shouting "boo!" (or coming through the door with a gun) to curious facts to stunning images to deep, life-changing insights. All of them are valid and, minimally, increase the entertainment value of the story. Often, especially in terms of secrets and revelations, it's assumed that these are developed in plotting. This does happen, but I think the most fruitful secrets and revelations emerge from deep knowledge — of characters and of the worlds in which they operate.
For me, surprises appear in two ways. Some of their by design, having emerged from analysis of the characters and the worlds. Others — which interest me the most — seem to come from someplace else. There is no real chain of logic that I can identify. Intuition may be at work. Effectively, the surprises that thrill me most are those that blindside me. A character whispers in my ear or an image appears in the daydream.
I'm not sure this can be turned into a repeatable approach. But an exercise I do, which I call connect the dots, often creates situations that lead to unexpected ideas. Here's how it works:
For a world, especially a world that is intimately tied to the story's premise, I make a list of captivating images or scenes that might belong in the story. Then I activate my logical, analytical brain and try and see how they might be connected with each other. I don't do this once. I do it several times.
This pushes me to go beyond the obvious. It helps me to create a narrative that makes me uncomfortable and even shocks me. When I feel that what I have is both exciting and disturbing, I know that this will take the story to a new level. As an added bonus, since I have created parallel narratives, I sometimes can use one of those as an alternate explanation that may change expectations for readers and audiences enough so the turn in the story will be fair, but won't be anticipated.
For a character, I focus on intentions. There's nothing more powerful than a deep understanding of why a character is doing something (or series of actions). Often, the character is motivated by the needs (at times, hidden even to them) and the approaches they take are twisted by some trauma.
After I’ve played around with ideas around the character's intention, I think of three specific critical actions or tasks. It's best if these come separately like the captivating images or scenes explore to uncover secrets about the story's world. The less they have logical connections, the better. Then I work, once again, to connect these three in a variety of ways. Once again, I'm hoping to come up with something that's exciting and disturbing.
So here's what I suggest you try at home:
- Take your story, your work in progress.
- Look closely at either the world or the protagonist.
- Find your three images, scenes, actions, or tasks.
- Connect these in 3 to 10 different ways, making sure at least one disturbs you.