Four weeks ago, I ran out of hot water. Mr. Rooter came, diagnosed a problem, fixed it and left.
Three weeks ago, I ran out of hot water. Mr. Rooter came, puzzled over the fact that there was no problem beyond a breaker being tripped, reset it, and left.
Two weeks ago, I ran out of hot water. Mr. Rooter scratched his head. At exactly one week intervals, my hot water was getting extremely hot, then giving out entirely.
Today, I ran out of hot water. Mr. Rooter sighed.
Three different plumbers have been puzzling over this problem for a month. They called me during the weeks or dropped by, all on their own time, to check on the boiler. They did research into the issue because they’d never seen it before. Their boss offered suggestions and made phone calls.
While this has been inconvenience for me, it’s been a mystery for them. They’re challenged by it. It’s not a problem any of them have ever seen before. They’re talking about it to others in their industry. Today, they figured it out (a faulty element in case you’re curious), and everything made sense. Of course it was the element. They wondered why they hadn’t figured it out before.
Human beings are hardwired to solve problems. Puzzles are interesting because we’ve never seen them before and don’t know how they work. Old information, when presented in a new way, gets us thinking and talking.
This is exactly why we have to innovate our stories. Sure, readers know how a love story works. (Mr. Rooter knows how my boiler works, too.) But we’ve got to present the information in a way that challenges the reader. Give them something they’ve never seen before and they’ll start talking to other people about it. Our books will start to spread by word of mouth. Add to that an ending that’s both surprising and inevitable and you’ve got a home run.