The Unusual Situation

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As writers, we are often told to begin at the critical moment and to begin with action. I know from my own experience that this can be confusing. I’ve started right in the middle of a magnificent (my thoughts alone) car chase or fight scene. Readers weren’t introduced to the characters so they couldn’t relate and no one was hooked by the action. An unusual situation helps the writer start at the right time, in action, while introducing an appealing character.  

Recently, I read 10 Ways to Hook Your Reader (And Reel Them in for Good) by Ann Garvin The first three on her list included beginning at a pivotal moment, an unusual situation, and adding an intriguing character. I had just read Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs and I thought to myself, that is a great example of an unusual situation.  That unusual situation sparked my curiosity and as I read, I met the main character. Now that situation was not the main inciting event. In fact, it was rather mundane, yet unfamiliar. Still, it was a great way to introduce the main character.  

Jacob’s construction of a 1/10,000-scale replica of the Empire State Building from boxes of adult diapers was the unusual situation. Jacob purposely used the wrong brand to be displayed and wasted lots of time. Then he gets a phone call about his grandfather being in trouble.  So, what do readers learn about the character in this scene? We learned that he is actually a spoiled brat trying to get fired. But, he also cares deeply for his grandfather and is willing to drop everything to go to him, unlike his other family members. He’s not everyone’s favorite guy, but Jacob is definitely intriguing.


In Andrew Smith’s Winger, the unusual situation is the main character having his head dipped in a toilet. I’m pretty sure, Smith gets empathy right away with this. No one deserves that, do they? I read to find out. As the MC’s head is in the toilet, we learn that he works hard to try not to have this happen, he’s hopeful, has a sense of humor, and is also kind of weak. The reason he is scrawny happens to be the fact that he is a fourteen-year-old in a junior class. He’s really smart. Interesting.

Holly Black’s Doll Bones opens with Zach playing dolls with his friends Poppy and Alice. They’re not dressing them up and showing off their outfits or playing house. No, instead they add new storylines every time they meet and carry out a saga. Each plays their own character and together they feel like they are accessing another world, that feels real, and more fun than actuality. Something Zach doesn’t want to give up. Still, he is a middle school boy and he doesn’t want to be caught playing with action figures. The basketball team will surely, make fun of him.  Then readers are introduced to an encased, creepy, probably haunted doll. Will Zach go on one last adventure with a doll and his two girl friends?

The above are just a few of the unusual situations and interesting characters that I’ve come across. What are some of your favorites? Have you made mental notes when you come across unusual situations in your own life? I know I try to.   

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4 Responses to “The Unusual Situation”

  1. Suzanne says:

    Great post. I never thought to take note of unusual situations for future openings. Wonderful advice.

    • Jessica Toman Jessica Toman says:

      Thanks, Suzanne. Recently, it occurred to me that I should start writing some ideas down. I also document notable sensory items. Like burnt popcorn and stepping on a worm with a bare foot.

  2. Cynthia Bohn says:

    Great perspective. Makes me think of the book Wonder by R.J. Palacio where even the opening quote of Chapter One hooked me as unusually interesting, and I immediately wanted to turn the page. “Fate smiled and destiny laughed as she came to my cradle…” followed by the build up from the narrative of 10 year old August explaining why others stare at or run away from him.

    • Jessica Toman Jessica Toman says:

      So true. Wonder is such a great book. The familiar Natalie Merchant lyric excites the reader’s curiosity right away. And in the first line R.J. Palacio plants another seed of intrigue. “I know I’m not an ordinary ten-year-old kid.” Thanks for sharing your experience.

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