NOT YOUR USUAL SUSPECTS

A group blog featuring an international array of killer mystery, suspense, and romantic suspense writers. With premises and story lines different from your run-of-the-mill whodunits, we tend to write outside the box. We blog several times a week on all topics relating to romantic suspense and mystery, our writing, and our readers. We welcome all comments! and often have guest bloggers.

We find our genre delightfully, dangerously, and deliciously exciting - join us here, if you do too!


Julie Moffet . Clare London . Cathy Perkins . Jean Harrington . Daryl Anderson . Nico Rosso . Maureen A. Miller . Marcelle Dube . Sandy Parks . Lisa Q Mathews . Sharon Calvin . Lynne Connolly . Janis Patterson

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Paraprosdokians – A New Look at an Old Technique

First of all, let’s do the important stuff – Happy Year and A Day, Carina! Toss the confetti and raise a glass of cyber-champagne for just about the best, most innovative – and nicest to work with – publishing operation in the world! Yea, Carina!!

Okay, now down to work.

I’ll admit, I didn’t know what a paraprosdokian was until a friend sent me a list of them. She’s always sending me jokes and funnies and, I’ll admit, I laughed heartily on reading them. Then the writing brain took over (doesn’t it always?) and I read them again, finally realizing that they were a lesson all in themselves.

By definition, a paraprosdokian is a figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected in a way that causes the reader or listener to reframe or reinterpret the first part. It is frequently used for humorous or dramatic effect. Here are a few of the best ones :

-- I asked God for a bike, but I know God doesn’t work that way, so I stole a bike and asked for forgiveness.

-- I want to die peacefully in my sleep, like my grandfather. Not screaming and yelling like the passengers in his car.

-- To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism. To steal from many is research.

-- A bus station is where a train stops. A railway station is where a train stops. My desk is a work station.

-- You do not need a parachute to skydive. You only need a parachute to skydive more than once.

-- The voices in my head may not be real, but they have some good ideas.

-- To be sure of hitting the target, shoot first and call whatever you hit the target.

-- Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.

You see what I mean? Each starts out with a statement that gives you an idea – then the second part puts an entirely new spin on the idea, usually turning your perception of it 90 degrees in a different direction. In other words, a turning point.

In real life, with real people, I’ll bet that most of us like a smooth stream – learn, meet, love, prosper, happy every after with no catastrophes or dead bodies or evil villains or whatnot. Such a progression is comforting and happy – and boring, at least from a story point of view. In our books, whether mystery or sci-fi or romance or whatever, we love to torture our characters and that is best done by surprise and change.

The character we trust turns out to be the villain. The safe house isn’t. The clue that proves the hero innocent is false. (See where I’m going?) A single incident pops up and suddenly the entire story is careening off in a different direction. Could we call these ‘plot paraprosdokians?’ Sure – if we can remember that tongue twister of a word! (You’re on your own there.)

Sometimes these plot twists can happen in a single sentence. Or paragraph. Or, in some rare cases, a chapter or more. It depends, as so much does, on the style of the writer and on the story itself, But they must happen, or your story becomes a sweet, linear telling of events that have no excitement, no challenge, and very probably no real interest.

For example, Bob comes home from work and finds a dead body lying in his driveway. He calls the police. The police find he has nothing to do with the body. Bob goes on and lives his life. Snoooooooze! Even though, if I were Bob, that’s what I’d want to happen in real life, but it makes for a boring and unsellable story.

By contrast, Bob comes home from work and finds a dead body lying in his driveway. The body is that of a fraternity brother from his college days, one who ostensibly died in a frat house fire. Also, unbeknownst to Bob, the body was Bob’s new wife’s brother.

See? You can go on and on, turning each plot twist in on itself, each time giving your story more depth and complexity, as well as more danger and higher stakes for your protagonist.

Deepen your plotting – become a practicing paraprosdokianist. I think I just broke my spell-check. Whether you can spell it or not, though it works. Give it a try.


by Janis Patterson

8 comments:

Anne Marie Becker said...

Janis, I LOVE this post! You had me laughing and thinking hard at the same time (pulling off an amazing feat). ;) AND I learned something... parapos...Hmmm, I'll have to go back and look at that word again, I guess.

Thanks for the enlightening post, as well as making me think about my plot. I needed that today!

Toni Anderson said...

Great and funny post, Janis :) I totally agree.

Wynter Daniels said...

I like that. That totally keeps readers turning pages. Thanks for the new word.

Elise Warner said...

A new word--a funny and interesting post.

Rita said...

Zowie! What a great tip. Thanks

Marcelle Dubé said...

Great metaphor for a story twist, Janis! Fun and clever.

Janis Patterson said...

Thanks for all the lovely comments, ladies. Sorry to be so late in getting back to you, but The Husband is coming home Saturday!!! And that means I have to have the dust bunnies at least under control, if not totally eliminated. How did the house get so dirty in just one year?

Shirley Wells said...

Yay, I love this post. Not only have I discovered a new word, I've had a laugh. So, so true.

Now ... what was that word again?

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