Have you ever come upon a road with which you were unfamiliar and did not know where it led? Did you wonder what was around the bend in the road? How many times have you bypassed such a road, opting instead for the safety of an often-traveled route? Was it fun or mundane? Was it an adventure or was it predictable? Did it tease your senses or thrill your spirit?
I would venture to guess traveling the same route again and again might even be downright boring. A better question might be: what are you missing by not taking the unfamiliar road? What if there is a breath-taking scenic overlook, or a beautiful creek with a waterfall. What if there is picturesque landscape or a quaint town or a craft shop that sells a specialty item you could use for one of your characters? What if there is secluded park that offers camouflage for a character’s clandestine activity? Perhaps you’ll run across a little run-down and abandoned house where your character grew up and has mixed feelings about revisiting.
Since I write historical romance, my mind tends to lean toward what might have taken place in any particular location 150 years ago. Who built that little tumble-down house and why did they choose this out-of-the-way spot? Why is the house now deserted—and I begin to imagine scenarios. Even contemporary fiction has to have a backstory—events that fell into place to lay the foundation for your characters. And if you write suspense, the possibilities offered by taking such a detour are endless.
Offering your readers unexpected twists and turns in your story can be much like taking a road less traveled. After we’ve read a couple of dozen books with similar plot lines and predictable resolutions – (yawn) – each book tends to sound too much like the last one you read, and you soon lose interest. And losing your reader’s interest is like shooting yourself in the foot.
Ask yourself some “what if” questions and give your characters a surprise conflict, something neither the character or the reader could see coming. Nobody ever experiences life according to their plans, so yank the rug out from under your character. Upend his goals. Derail his expectations. Reverse his motives. Redefine his agenda. In other words, insert an unexpected twist in the story that will keep your reader turning pages.
The more you throw at your character to divert him from his goals, the greater interest you will create for your reader. If your reader can’t figure a way out of your character’s circumstances, she will keep reading and will not put the book down. Imagining such unexpected twists and turns are like taking a road less-traveled. You just don’t know what you might discover.