Cover: Elements of Surprise: Our Mental Limits and the Satisfactions of Plot, from Harvard University PressCover: Elements of Surprise in HARDCOVER

Elements of Surprise

Our Mental Limits and the Satisfactions of Plot

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Product Details


$37.00 • £29.95 • €33.50

ISBN 9780674980204

Publication Date: 04/16/2018

Academic Trade

344 pages

5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches


[An] excellent book… Tobin reveals valuable truths about the stories we tell to entertain each other, and those we tell ourselves to get by, and how they are related.—Simon Ings, New Scientist

Plot twists can jolt us into an understanding of fiction’s deeper meaning. But how do they work? …Tobin pinpoints the psychological quirks that make us vulnerable to literary shock tactics.—Barbara Kiser, Nature

In Elements of Surprise, John le Carre rubs shoulders with Agatha Christie, Jane Austen with Graham Greene, in a wide-ranging analysis of a trope and practice that moves across all genres… Tobin’s careful analysis of the mechanics of ‘surprise’ fully mobilizes the cognitive sciences as provocative and valuable literary critical tools… Elements of Surprise is a fascinating analysis of an element of plot that we might just take too much for granted.—Gail Marshall, Times Higher Education

[Tobin] looks at our cognitive limits and quirks that not only help make such surprises work effectively but also elicit a certain kind of pleasure and satisfaction when revealed, recognized, understood, and acknowledged. She looks methodically under the hoods of various cognitive theories of memory, perception, and narrative linguistics… The book should be read by writers who want to improve their craft and readers/viewers who want to understand their own responses to such narratives… The better we understand what makes certain features of a narrative work well, the more it can deepen both our reading and writing enjoyment.—Jenny Bhatt, PopMatters

This book is likely to be the defining standard book in cognitive literary studies for at least the next decade.—Blakey Vermeule, Stanford University

This is a work of major importance, perhaps the best one yet on the psychology of narrative and on what narrative can offer psychology. It is a pleasure to read and a pleasure to learn from.—William Flesch, author of Comeuppance: Costly Signaling, Altruistic Punishment, and Other Biological Components of Fiction

If you want to know how good literary writers are manipulating your mind as a reader—read Tobin. This is a remarkable book.—Eve Sweetser, University of California, Berkeley

What makes a plot, fictitious or real, satisfying? With enthralling style, Tobin uncovers ways in which satisfaction depends upon fundamental processes of thinking about other minds, especially minds telling us stories. Welcome to the cognitive science of sophisticated mental pleasure. A masterpiece.—Mark Turner, Case Western Reserve University

In this eloquent and masterful work, Tobin guides us to think differently about the stories we require to make sense of our lives.—Amy Cook, author of Shakespearean Neuroplay: Reinvigorating the Study of Dramatic Texts and Performance through Cognitive Science

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