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October 26, 2016

The inspiration for this article comes directly from a spy thriller I finished not long ago. I had a lot of fun reading this story. However, the author dangled the carrot, repeatedly, which was the entire premise of the book, for over three quarters of the story. The actual McGuffin, when revealed, was a huge disappointment, a cliché, more or less because it’s been done, guessed at, or what was expected so many times.

I was hoping for something a bit more original, more of a surprise. After all, the buildup was immense, with threats of immense proportions, something that would rock the world and all that. Yet, it didn’t rock me at all. Maybe I’m too jaded? In this day and age, I can’t be the only one.


I, for one, don’t believe in dangling carrots. Though, of course, I don’t reveal the answer to the plot on page one, I also don’t dangle the most amazing and fantastic reveal to the reader throughout the story, either. I know that I can never live up to it. I don’t understand why authors like to do that when in this jaded society, it’s so hard to come up with something truly amazing and outlandish.


The big McGuffin is of course, the big surprise, the main plot twist at the end. The reason for the story, or the whole premise for the rest of the book. While there are many ways to go about it, giving the readers it’s something beyond their expectations is not the way to go about it.

The idea is to surprise the reader, sure, but not by blatantly telling them you’re going to surprise them. It should be done with a feather, not a sledgehammer.

You especially don’t want to build up expectations, only to disappoint the reader with something that’s mundane.

Let the story build up their expectations, take them in directions they didn’t expect, keep them guessing. Hopefully, they won’t be disappointed. There are no guarantees, of course.

Surprise, which is hard to do, is a goal, but disappointment isn’t going to help that, especially with a self-induced buildup to nothing.


I’ve always enjoyed stories the most, not when the big McGuffin is built up as something super-fantastic or super whatever, but when it’s subtly handled. I may have an idea what it is, so if it turns to be true, I’m not disappointed. On the other hand, if I guessed wrong, I’m more pleasantly surprised. When the author blatantly builds it up and then it’s revealed to be something mundane, I’m disappointed, even if the story was good.

Don’t do that! Keep a handle on it.

Or, don’t dangle the carrot at all and let the reader find out what’s going on along with the characters. Leave it all a mystery until near the end. Nobody can figure out what and why until then. That’s always a lot of fun!


If you’re going to dangle the carrot, make sure your McGuffin is something worth dangling. If not, you’re going to disappoint a lot of people.

I’m just saying.

Happy writing!

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