Life is full of unexpected twists. Like that moment when you find out you are expecting, only you and your husband were planning to wait a few years between babies. When an unexpected job offer takes you to another part of the country. When a family illness changes your plans for the future. We all switch tracks in life. Making decisions we didn’t know we’d make because our world has shifted in an unexpected way.
Just like us, characters make decisions that shift the course of the story. They switch tracks and alter their direction. These changes can make for amazing twists and unexpected turns in our novels, if we learn to utilize them to their fullest potential.
What makes a character switch tracks?
*Embarrassment– To avoid embarrassment. We can create these moments to make an unexpected decision make sense.
*Secrets– To keep a secret that they would die to protect. It will give you an opportunity to create unexpected complications in their relationships.
*Promises– To keep a promise. If they have promised never to let the family acreage go to a stranger, they may pack their bags and head home when their parents are no longer able to care for the place.
*Avoiding Trouble– To avoid further conflict or danger. If your character really needs a loan from a bank, but the loan approval officer is their sworn enemy, they may choose to go to great lengths to find another option.
*Bring About Something Good- To bring good to themselves or to others they love. Self-sacrifice is a heroic trait we can utilize when an unexpected opportunity comes up for supporting characters in our novel.
How do we build an unexpected track switch in our novels?
*Internal Conflict- Use some of the emotional components above like fear of embarrassment, or secrets that they keep from others to build internal conflict that causes them to switch tracks. Like the girl who doesn’t know how to dance may turn down the guy she loves to avoid making a total fool out of herself. Or a different guy asked her and threatened to go live with a secret of hers if she didn’t attend the dance with him.
*External Conflict- Something comes unexpectedly from the peripheral areas of the plot that creates new conflict and makes a character switch tracks. For example, your character has planned the best fund-raising event of the year but there is a bomb threat. Normally, she might close it down. What if the threat came from someone who also held her brother hostage? If she doesn’t go ahead with the event, her brother will die. Now she might do something that no one else sees coming.
Switching tracks creates amazing twists in our novels. What is your favorite surprise, twist or character track switch of all time?