Vera Tobin

Elements of Surprise / Publications / Teaching / CV

“Cognitive Bias and the Poetics of Surprise.” Language and Literature, vol. 18, no. 2

An early exploration of the role the curse of knowledge plays in the poetics of surprise. This paper observes that narratives often take advantage of the curse of knowledge to solve an ongoing storytelling dilemma: how to engineer satisfying twists that genuinely surprise audiences but also avoid coming off as non-sequiturs or cheats. It argues that the curse of knowledge provides a useful mechanism to encourage readers to over-generalize propositions in predictable and reproducible ways, while making it likely that they will also agree, in retrospect, that these generalizations were mistaken. The same bias serves to enhance the impression in hindsight that the narrative’s outcome was indeed possible to predict.