A surprising announcement!
And now, I’m going to tell you something very interesting and dramatic. It will be sudden and surprising. Ready? Okay, it’s coming up next:
That opening paragraph is an announcement of what I, the writer, am about to tell you. Of course, it better be interesting and surprising or you, the reader, are going to be disappointed, or think that I’m being a bit overly dramatic.
Wouldn’t it be better if I just told you something, and you found it interesting and surprising?
It works that way in fiction too. Do you announce to your readers when a big scene or moment is coming?
Here are some actual examples from manuscripts I’ve edited (I’ve made some changes in the sentences so no one should recognize your work, if I borrowed from you).
And then, just when I least expected it, something exciting happened.
What happened next made her scream in terror.
Things got even worse after that.
So here’s what he decided to do.
The rest of the night went like this.
Later that day, something very strange happened.
For the rest of the trip, we had one stroke of bad luck after another.
Wrongly assuming it was my wife, I opened the door.
It was a calm day with bright sunshine and blue skies, not the kind of day they expected something horrible to happen later that afternoon.
Today things were good between us, but tomorrow, they would go terribly wrong.
I’ve heard these called announcement sentences or thesis statements. They can be useful—if you’re writing a thesis or an essay or a news story. They probably don’t belong in your fiction, at least not to announce to readers that something important is coming up.
An announcement tells readers in advance, ‘Hey, I know this section has been boring, but keep reading, something dramatic is about to happen.’
Why not just let something dramatic happen? Why ruin the surprise and the enjoyment for readers?
Especially in first-person stories, these announcements distort the narrative perspective. It puts the character into the future and looking back on events, telling the whole story in flashback mode. If the narrator knows something dramatic is about to happen, the narrator isn’t experiencing the story first-hand as it happens, and neither are readers.
There are also announcement words that can easily be eliminated most of the time:
Started to …
These are only a few of the more common examples. Obviously there are times when you need those words. But when one of these words announces the next moment, see if you can drop the word or rewrite the sentence to avoid it. Don’t tell readers ‘Suddenly , this happens …’. Just let it happen, written in a way that shows it was ‘sudden.’
ORIGINAL: My husband and I were sitting at the kitchen table enjoying our peaceful Saturday breakfast when we couldn’t believe what happened next. Suddenly, a man neither of us knew opened the door and started to walk in. As if that wasn’t bad enough, now I noticed he wore no clothes. Next, I asked if he wanted cream or sugar in his coffee.
REVISE: My husband and I sat at the kitchen table, enjoying our Saturday breakfast, sipping coffee and munching on croissants and strawberries. I turned to refill our cups when the door flew open and a strange man walked in. Stark raving naked. “Cream or sugar?” I asked him.
In short, don’t tell readers you’re about to surprise them. It defeats the purpose.