3 Reasons to Use the Unexpected in Your Writing

3 reasons to use the unexpected

Let’s take a look at stories from our childhood.  An elephant and a pig are best friends.  A dinosaur longs to dance the ballet.  A princess saves the prince from a dragon.   What do these stories have in common?  They are unexpected!

  1. nugget and fangUnexpected friendships create interest.  In Mo Willems’s, Elephant and Piggie series, we are not only surprised that elephant and piggie are good friends, but they also have opposite personalities.  In Nugget and Fang, a shark and a minnow are unlikely friends.  We want to read about how a shark and a minnow can possibly get along. 

  2. Unexpected goals create tension.  In Brontorina, a dinosaur longs to dance, but she is too big for the ballet studio!  This unexpected goal for a dinosaur creates a great problem for the story.  In Out of My Mind, every character in the book is surprised when Melody wants to participate in an academic bowl.  They all assume that she isn’t smart enough, just because she has cerebral palsy. Her goal is unexpected and this creates tension and we want to turn the page.

  3. Unexpected plot twists surprise the reader. In Paper Bag Princess,  the princess is the hero who saves the prince and in the end chooses not to marry him.  This is the opposite of what we expect of a princess!  Artemis Fowl is a kid who wants to be a criminal mastermind and succeeds.  We do not expect a kid to be the villain, so we keep reading.

    Now it’s your turn.  Think of a character.  Give him the opposite of what you would expect.  Maybe you’re thinking of an owl who wants to sleep at night, or a pig that wants to be clean, or a little pea who hates to eat candy!

Kidlit 411 Interview with Elaine Kiely Kearns and Sylvia Liu

Kidlit411 is exactly what it sounds like; a high quality site with all the information you would ever want as a kidlit writer or illustrator.  Elaine Kiely Kearns and Sylvia Liu, my fellow 12x12ers, launched Kitlit411 in January 2014 and received over 11,400 page views the first month.


With author and illustrator spotlights of people like PB author-illustrator Debbie Ridpath Ohi, and graphic novel artist Janet Lee, Kidlit411 fills our insatiable need for knowledge.  Kidlit411 features interviews of agents like Jodell Sadler, and #1 New York Times Bestseller Drew DaywaltMichael Ian Black, and Will Terry.
The first time I read Kidlit411, I knew it filled a need for kidlit writers everywhere.  I’m thrilled to get the inside scoop  from Elaine and Sylvia.
Kirsti Call:  Hi Elaine and Sylvia.  Thank you for allowing me the privilege of interviewing you!  What was the impetus for starting Kidlit411?
Elaine Kiely Kearns: KidLit411 came about from my need to pool resources from the internet. There are so many great sites out there and the kid lit community LOVES to share information! The amount of resources shared in Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 was so fantastic that I couldn’t keep up and needed a place to put it. So, I started making a list of the sites that I would return to again and again, to share with my online critique group. Then I thought that perhaps other friends in the kid lit community would enjoy the information too. Sylvia offered a fantastic template for us to use, and KidLit411 was born!
Sylvia Liu: Elaine started the site, but I knew it was a winner as soon as she told our critique group about her idea. We helped her brainstorm what the site might look like and I helped her set it up with our Pinterest-style front page.
KC: How do you decide what to include on the site?
EKK: Every link that is posted on our site has been vetted. We make sure that the content has some type of significance for a writer of kid lit. The people that we recommend for critiques, we have either personally used or a member of the team has recommended them. We strive to post the cream of the crop, even though it is very time consuming! We want to give our readers the best of the best and firmly believe that you can only do that with due diligence.
SL: We add links for articles that we would want to read and learn from. We’re in many kidlit groups and people are always sharing great resources, so we never run out of good material.
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