Being a creature of habit and routine, I’m not big on surprises. I’ve never enjoyed surprise parties for myself because I don’t like to be the center of attention. And I certainly don’t like surprises that result in destruction to our property. However, when it comes to reading, I love to be surprised. It doesn’t have to be as dramatic as a plot twist. It can be as subtle as a character showing an unusual facet of her personality that evokes an emotional reaction.
The ruptured pipe got me to think about ways I can use the element of surprise in order to enhance my own stories and make them less predictable. Of course I can’t throw my reader a curve ball in every scene, but predictability is boring and it will create frustration for the reader.
Usually two or three game changing surprises are believable, but any more and the reader will become exhausted. Too many surprises will render the others less shocking and the emotional reaction will be much less. When the surprise starts to feel unrealistic that’s when I’ll lose the reader.
Peppering my novel with little surprise actions, not necessarily game changers, can keep the reader wondering. Instead of my character always raising his eyebrow when in doubt, I can have him fiddle with his wedding ring when his wife tells him she was out for friends. Sometimes it’s fun not only to surprise the reader or characters, but it’s fun to surprise myself because in the fictional world, I do like surprises.
As our house continues to dry with the help of ubiquitous industrial sized fans, heaters and dehumidifiers, the repair work will soon begin. Life is full of surprises that can catch us off guard and our initial human reaction is fear or helplessness. When I remember there is always someone worse off than me or the circumstances could have been much worse, it helps to keep things in perspective. We could have been out of town the night the pipe burst resulting in a more destructive situation. We’re safe and thankfully, my laptop is dry, so all is good.
Are you a fan of surprise?