293: The Elements of Surprise: Untwisting the Twist with Vera Tobin, PhD

Every now and again on Facebook, I learn that friends of mine from kindergarten are doing really, really cool stuff. Today I’m chatting with Vera Tobin, a professor of cognitive science at Case Western, and author of the upcoming book, The Elements of Surprise, which comes out on April 16, 2018.

Her book is all about how the surprises, tw ists, and unexpected revelations we love in fiction actually work on our brains cognitively. In her work, she breaks down the different ways in which we processes surprises and twists in books and movies, and the structure of different types of surprises. As you might imagine, when I saw her talking about her book on Facebook, I was immediately super nosy.

Harvard University Press was cool enough to send me an ARC, even though I’m not (a) a cognitive scientist or (b) an academic (thank you, y’all!) and it was a fascinating read, and I’m not just saying that because Vera was my best friend in kindergarten. When we recorded this, we probably hadn’t spoken to each other in person or via phone in at least 20-25 years, but we had a great time.

She tells us about:

The importance of surprise and also cognitive satisfaction, especially in genre fiction

The parallels between literary surprises and orgasms

The categorizing of spoilers – different types and different effects

We also talk about the book The Duke’s Wager by Edith Layton, which features a very twisty romance indeed – and yes, we spoil it a little bit while discussing it.

Listen to the podcast →

Read the transcript →

Here are the books we discuss in this podcast:

You can learn more about Vera Tobin and her research at her website, VeraTobin.org.

We also discussed

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This Episode’s Music

Peatbog Faeries Live at 25 album cover - a red lit stage with hands in the air from the crowd in the foregroundOur music is provided by Sassy Outwater. Thanks, Sassy!

We’ve been playing tracks from the Peatbog Fairies’ live album, Live @ 25, and it is seriously fun.

This is Strictly Sambuca by the Peatbog Faeries.

You can find this album at Amazon and iTunes.

And you can learn more about the Peatbog Faeries at their website, PeatbogFaeries.com.

Podcast Sponsor

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Transcript Sponsor

Whiskey Sharp: Jagged

This week’s transcript is being brought to you by Whiskey Sharp: Jagged by Lauren Dane.

Vicktor Orlov took one look at the wary gaze and slow to trust personality of the deliciously sexy and fascinating Rachel Dolan and knew he wanted more than just a casual friendship. But as a natural protector, he also knew bossiness and overprotective maneuvering would push her away rather than draw her close. He’ll use every tool in his easygoing, laidback arsenal to convince her to take a chance on them.

Rachel’s flourishing new career as a tattoo artist has brought color back into a life previously damaged by a series of bad choices and violence. She knows she can trust Vic, it’s herself she’s not sure of. She doesn’t want to be caged or controlled. Doesn’t want to be protected so much she had no ability to make her own choices.

And damn if the man doesn’t know it.

When Vic finally drops all pretenses of “just friends” and focuses all his careful affection and irresistible seduction on her, Rachel knows she’s falling hard for the laid back pretty boy she’d discovered had a relentlessly steel spine when it came to her.

And she can’t resist.

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