As students, we loved getting our teacher off on a tangent; away from a boring topic and onto some personal experience that never failed to grab our attention. These “tangents” proved to be the most teachable moments in class.
Even seasoned readers love a tangent—a surprise, whether it is in a character or the plot. Guess what? As writers, we love them too. There is immense satisfaction, during a period of writing, when I take myself off on a tangent that adds mystery or drama to the storyline. The power of the pen (er, keyboard) cannot be understated. The first time this happened to me I was as surprised as my readers. I cannot plan these moments, but make an effort to use them at random points. Key questions that keep tangents close at hand include:
- How can this predictable scene be shattered by the dramatic?
- Is this time to introduce a character flaw?
- I have fallen in love with this character. Therefore, it might be time for a divorce?
- Will my tangent take my readers to places they have never been before?
- Does the tangent change or enrich lives?