When I read, I envision each sentence as a path carved out by the author. The path twists and turns and along the way I encounter different sights, sounds, emotions, actions. I stay on the path until I reach the end of the story, which usually coincides with the end of the path. This is not too different from hiking along a path in the woods. Sure you are moving from point A to B but reaching that point is not really the goal. Reading, much like that hike in the woods, is not just about finishing the book. It is the journey that is the entertaining part.
As you read the path can be straight, curved, hilly or any combination. My favorite is when the path has not a neat twist so much as an interesting bump or wrinkle in it, something that makes me stop and examine it closer. Those are the surprises I like the best and I try to use in my own writing. Here are just a few of my favorites. Sure you plot could be full of surprises, in some genres it better be, but it’s the embedded surprises in your writing that will catch most of your readers. Here are some of my favorites.
Alliteration. Often when reading I pay attention to each word. In English we have some many words that mean the same thing so why an author chose a particular word is something that fascinates me. Simply put alliteration is the repetition of certain sounds in words. Alliteration is not as big a fixture in modern literature as it once was. Still I think it can, when used sparingly, surprise and delight the reader. Think about this, would you set foot in a tomb that, reeked of death, decomposition and decay? Granted those words all convey essentially the same thought but when put all together they give the description an emphasis any one alone would lack. Remember, like cooking with chili pepper, a little will do wonders but a lot will cost you friends and readers.
Synesthesia. Can you taste the color blue? What about a ring that sparkles so brilliantly it makes your ears ring in sympathy? Synesthesia is the impact of one sensory input being experienced by another. This is one of my favorite ways to surprise the reader and in turn to be surprised when reading. I love descriptions that go beyond words to actually bring me back to sensations from my memories. To do that you should try to avoid descriptions that treat senses individually. When you are at the movies the sight and sounds of an explosion hit you at the same time. There is no reason not to make use of a similar technique in your writing.
Meter. Poetry is distinct from prose in many way, one identifiable way is the use of meter in each line to develop a rhythmic motif. Now unless you are writing a children’s book you may not have given thought to the rhythmic flow of your sentences. But every once in a while it is good to use a sentence that stands out from the ones around it, either by sight or sound. I am one of those readers who hears the words in my head when I read them so I am often keenly aware of meter even in prose. I trust others are too.
If you aren’t already, try slipping one of these into your writing and see what kind of reactions you get. You may be surprised.