Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Boo! The Unexpected

I have to confess that “U” is giving me a hard time. It shouldn’t. It’s not like I didn’t know it was coming—it wasn’t Unexpected! Commit to blogging for each letter of the alphabet, and sooner or later, you’re going to get to “U.” I should have known; I should have planned. I didn’t. And we’ve got a lot of other extra special letters coming up too. I probably won’t learn my lesson for them either.

So, as I was thinking about words that start with the letter “U,” I thought about the word “unexpected.” Hmm, it begins with a “U.” Awesome! I couldn’t find any interesting quotes, so I looked in the dictionary. According to the one I have in my home office, it means, “Not expected.” Brilliant. I think it might be time to buy a new dictionary (or maybe find someone famous able to say something pithy using the word). However, it also means “unforeseen.” And for this blog, I find that definition slightly more helpful.

See, as a writer, I craft stories that I hope will interest people. Characters pop into my head, they talk to me and I write down their words. Then I add my own twist to them. And while I’m writing down their stories, I have to achieve a fine balance between the logic of moving from point A to point B, and not boring the reader. I want the reader to be fascinated by what’s happening, invested in my characters and plot, and unable to put the book down until it’s finished. Although I may foreshadow events to come, I want to maintain a freshness in my writing. I want to create the unexpected, without stretching believability to the point of no return (also known as jumping the shark).

It can be as complicated as a secret inheritance/abandoned baby story where you REALLY can’t figure out who the mysterious donor/mother is until the reveal at the end, or as simple as making the beautiful heroine clumsy. Anything, really, as long as it draws the reader up short for a moment and forces her to read my words more closely, to remain invested in my story, rather than skimming because she knows where the story is headed before she’s read page five.

Tell me, as a writer, what do you do to add the unexpected to your stories? And as a reader, what unexpected things do you like?


  1. I'm not 'wired' to have characters talk in my head or play in my dreams. My scenes instinctively flow to a hook that just pops out.
    It's harder to write scene openings, but the endings come easily, whether I'm pantsing or plotting. This happens in my work newsletters and gardening columns, too. About 3/4 of the way through a piece, everything flows toward a surprise to me punchline. That's when the joy fills me.

  2. As a writer, the 'unexpected' can have me chuckling (remember my Elvis-singing Nile boatman who popped up out of nowhere?) or cause me to raise my eyebrows, especially when a character reveals something about himself or herself that I hadn't actually realised!

  3. Ana, what were the biggest "surprise punchlines" you've written?

    Paula, yes, I love the Elvis character!

  4. I like things that surprise me, which isn't easy to do. I'm pretty good at predicting what's going to happen in a book.

    I love it when the guy you thought was the bad guy turns out to be the good guy.

  5. Oh, I love misunderstood men! At least in books--in life, I'm not sure.

  6. I'll have to make a list for you, Jen.
    When I first took a writing class, the only thing I did right was to have great chapter hooks.

  7. Don't knock that, Ana. Great chapter hooks can be really difficult.