Jill Weatherholt

Writing Stories of Love, Faith and Happy Endings While Enjoying the Journey

Stay Calm

65 Comments

Image courtesy of wikipedia.com

Image courtesy of wikipedia.com

Last Saturday morning we woke to the sound of Niagara Falls coming from one of our guest bathrooms. A pipe under the sink had burst. Having never experienced something like this, we did the first thing that came to mind, we panicked.

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?

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Author: Jill Weatherholt

My name is Jill Weatherholt and I’m a writer. I have a full-time job, but at night and on the weekend, I pursue my passion, writing. I write modern stories about love, friendship and forgiveness. I started this blog as a way to share my journey toward publication and to create a community for other new writers. Raised in the Washington, DC area, I’ve lived in Charlotte, North Carolina since 2004. I hold a degree in Psychology from George Mason University and a Certification in Paralegal Studies from Duke University. My first book, SECOND CHANCE ROMANCE, published by Harlequin Love Inspired released on February 21, 2017 and is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.com. I was the first place winner in the Dream Quest One Short Story Contest in the Winter 2014-2015 competition. In 2014, I placed second in Southern Writers Magazine Short Story Contest. I was also a top ten finalist in Southern Writers Magazine Short Story Contest in 2012 and 2013. I’m a 2010 and 2012 winner of the NaNoWriMo Contest. I love to connect readers, visit me at jillweatherholt.com

65 thoughts on “Stay Calm

  1. Like you, Jill, I prefer my surprises in fiction–and there, I LOVE them. It takes a good writer to surprise the reader, and I appreciate that talent. As for broken pipes when you are out of town, I’ve been there–not fun. Hope your house dries out soon and the repairs aren’t too disruptive to your writing.

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    • I think this is so true. Although everyone loves a surprise, you need to be a real master of the game to do a good surprise, because of the need still to maintain consistency and credibility in your characters’ actions. I’ve never had the confidence to try one.

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      • Great point, Denise. Maintaining the credibility of the character’s action is a must when writing a good surprise. Like you, I think that might be a little too advanced for me. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment. Have a great weekend!

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    • You’re right, Candace, it does take a good writer to surprise the reader. Sorry to hear you�ve experienced the broken pipe. The house is drying out as are my sinuses. [image: 🙂 ] Have a great weekend!

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  2. You are lucky. A friend of mine had her pipes burst when she was on vacation and it wasn’t until the neighbor noticed water running down her driveway that it was discovered. All her hard wood floors had to be replaced. Believe that would have been better in a novel than in her house!

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  3. Not these kind of surprises, definitely not! Oh Jill, so sorry to hear about your burst pipe, that’s awful. I know you say it could be a lot worse but it’s still a major inconvenience. Glad that your laptop is ok, phew! I hope that the clean up job doesn’t take too long and that order will soon be restored.
    I like little surprises in every day life, like when you hear from someone you haven’t heard from in a long time but like you, not surprise parties! I would need to be prepared!
    I always glean so much from your writing tips. I have only just started delving into the world of fiction, which I’ve probably mentioned before, and so I need all the help I can get! I need to focus on my memoir but I have all these other writing projects ongoing and I find it hard making the transition to fiction. I can’t say enough how helpful you are to me!
    Hope you had a good Halloween Jill, and have a lovely weekend 🙂

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    • Oh Sherri, you are so sweet. Thank you for your kind words. Yes, all of the work that will need to be done will be a major inconvenience, but at least we still have a roof over our heads. I know you have a lot of writing projects going on, but somehow you keep pumping out terrific blog posts. I so enjoy reading them and look forward one day to reading your memoir. I hope you and your family have a fantastic weekend!

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  4. Oh Jill, so sorry to hear about your flood. Water can be so destructive – I know I’d panic, too. Hope you all dry out quickly.
    I love the way you can turn such a disaster into a positive post about your characters. You are absolutely right, stories are much more engaging if you can keep your reader guessing by weaving in a few surprises along the way. The trick is to not get carried away and make it so unrealistic that your reader loses faith. Like everything, it’s finding a happy balance.
    As usual, Jill – great post! 🙂

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    • Thank you, Jenny! Yes, it’s amazing how destructive water can be and it sure does travel! We’re drying out, slowly but surely. Keeping our readers guessing is a sure way to keep them reading, but you’re right, we must keep it real. Loved your post today! 🙂 Enjoy your weekend!

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  5. Well, as you can probably guess I do like surprises…but not of the destructive type! Was the pipe frozen? Do you know why it happened? How frustrating, I would have panicked and screamed – making myself very useless! 🙂 Hope all the repairs go well, Jill.

    I love how you can turn any experience into an idea for your writing. It’s what is going to make your novel/s a HIT! Your readers will be able to relate to the characters and their actions. So exciting!

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    • Thank you, Maria, you always lift me up with your kind words. 🙂 Oh I have no doubt that you love surprises and the bigger the better! I don’t think the pipe was frozen. We haven’t been able to get a plumber in to look at it since we’re still in the drying phase. The whole incident was like a bad dream. We were running in circles, not sure what to do. I hope you get out and do some dancing this weekend and enjoy!

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  6. I’m a big fan of surprises, Jill, but not the kind you woke to last weekend. What a nightmare. I’m currently arranging a party for my husband’s 50th next May, and yes, I want it to be a surprise. He’s done it for me a couple times, now I want to return the favor. The trick, I’m hoping, is in planning it for the week after his birthday. Maybe then he won’t see it coming. He’s a hard guy to fool.

    In the novel I’m reading on my Nook at the moment (The Seneca Scourge, by blogger Carrie Rubin), the plot has taken a very surprising turn. I was just getting to the point where I was ready for the story to move on, not exactly bored, but I would have become so if not for this unpredictable twist. This bold move even does some genre-crossing, but it’s so well written, I was able to suspend belief with ease. I’m afraid my creativity often falls short in this area. I’m so left-brain dominated, it often limits possibilities that might seem too far-fetched in the real world. My hope is by the time I visit you in February, I’ll have my novel revisions outlined so you and Rajni can help me pinpoint the weaknesses, particularly predictability and cliches. By the way, does the weekend of 21st Feb work for you?

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    • Ahh, very sneaky, Gwen, planning your husband’s surprise party the weekend after his birthday. Make sure your girls keep a tight lip. When I was their age, I had a hard time keeping a secret. I’ve been meaning to purchase Carrie’s book. I’ve read some reviews and after reading your comment, it sounds like a great read. Oh yes, the weekend of the 21st works for me…so excited! Have a great weekend!

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  7. Ugh! Sorry to hear about the nasty plumbing surprise Jill, but you’re right, it can always be worse. In college, I was living in a downstairs apartment with a roommate. I was visiting my parents for the weekend and received a call from my roommate at 4am letting me know that it was raining in the bathroom. Soon it began raining all throughout our apartment… Turns out the upstairs tenant was also gone for the weekend and had a leak in their bathroom plumbing. It flooded their whole apartment, bringing their floor/our ceiling crashing down.

    We had to live in a temporary apartment for a month while repairs were completed.

    But, as your blog post proves, within every crisis lives a lesson that can be used to our advantage. Best of luck with the repair work and best of luck on incorporating more surprises in your fiction. 🙂

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    • Thanks, Phillip! Ugh, what a nightmare! Yeah, when your ceiling crashes in, it’s time for temporary living arrangements. Thanks for sharing your story and best of luck as you begin the NaNo journey. We’ll be pulling for you! Happy Weekend!

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  8. I love surprises 🙂 Getting and giving. But not of these sort, of course. Though– they do make for great stories.
    I have never experienced a burst pipe, but I have some weird fear of this and never leave my laptop on low ground. You have just amplified this fear. I hope it all gets dried out soon!

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    • Thanks! I had a feeling you enjoyed surprises, Aussa! You’re smart not to leave your laptop on low ground. After last weekend’s surprise, I’ll be more aware of where I park my laptop and other electronic devices. Have a great weekend!

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  9. As long as your laptop is dry, you can survive.

    So sorry for your mess!

    Theresa

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  10. LOL…yes, so true, Theresa. Thanks for the condolences. Things will get slowly get back to normal. Have a wonderful weekend!

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  11. Funny … I was thinking the same thing as Theresa. Have laptop will write, right? 🙂

    Sorry about the plumbing disaster. Apparently, besides a love for a routine life, we also have in common disliking surprised. Ack! I hate them. No thank you. Perhaps that just goes along with the predictability some of us need. Know what I mean?

    However, I completely agree with you on throwing surprises at the reader. Fun to come upon while reading, and always fun to create when writing. Those I love the most are ones you hadn’t planned or thought about but which just come to you while writing.

    Thanks again for a great post, Jill. As another blogger said, I love how you integrate such great ideas/tips into your blog that are based on your own real world experiences.

    Have a wonderful weekend! And enjoy that extra hour of sleep on Sunday morning 🙂

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    • Thanks, Dave! Love your comment relating to surprises, “Ack!” That’s exactly how I feel. 🙂 Like you, I love when those surprises happen in my writing. It’s exciting when my character surprises me by his or her action. Have a great weekend too! Oh yes, I’ll enjoy that extra hour of sleep…you do the same.

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  12. So many things can generate that something extra in our writing…even a leaky pipe. Great post!

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  13. LOL. I would have panicked too. Hopefully after I shut the water main off. As for surprises in books, love them and hate them. But love or hate at least they aren’t boring.. I love coming here. Seems I’m reminded of good writing techniques every time. Thanks, Jill.

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  14. I think surprise is a useful writing tool in moderation. Much better though is suspense and the sense of the story building towards an endgame. I’ve read several (new author) books recently which plod along pleasantly enough but with which I’ve lost interest in as a result.
    Happily the only leak I’ve been involved in recently was from my apartment into the apartment below, much better than the other way around!

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    • You’re right, Roy, moderation is the key with surprises. Oh yes, leaking into the apartment below is much better, at least for you. Hopefully you’re on the top floor so you won’t ever be the unlucky recipient. 🙂

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  15. Another excellent post, Jill. In books, as in life, some surprises are very good, but others are too much. I like a scene’s worth of challenge and intensity, but an hour’s worth in life is too much, and some books go over the top and falsely drive the reader over the edge.
    p.s. At out Girl Cousins’ reunion, one cousin who shall remain nameless, stopped up 3 of the bathroom toilets during the visit…and each time she called for help but didn’t stay to help clean up the mess. One of the other cousins asked me what I’d do with such a character in a short story, and I said I’d have to kill her. In a horrible Porta-Potty accident at a park, maybe.

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    • Thank you for your kind words, Marylin. LOL! What a great idea…”a horrible Porta-Potty accident at the park.” Hilarious! You know, I’ve always had a fear of getting stuck in one of those things. 🙂

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  16. A dry laptop is one of life’s essentials, Jill. Glad you could put such a positive spin on the experience 🙂

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  17. Surprises are good, especially if they are pleasant surprises. However, sometimes the bad ones come with valuable lessons and life changing moments. I’m so sorry about your pipe problem but then again look how you turned that liability into a writing asset! Clever girl. 🙂

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    • Thanks, Dor! I hope people didn’t get the impression that I don’t like any kind of surprise. I do love the surprise of an unpredicted snow fall, a phone call from an old friend, or a smile from a stranger when I need one. I don’t enjoy surprises that disrupt my routine, but I guess they are all part of life. I’m so sorry for the recent loss of your dog, I know your heart is hurting. My thoughts and prayers are with you. xo

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  18. Hi Jill, I have to come back and read the posts I missed on your blog and all the comments from your readers. When I first read the title, I finished it with “and carry on”. I like what you wrote about circumstances and keeping things in perspective. As I said earlier on my blog today, life is made up of dual experiences.

    About surprises with your characters, I like and enjoy when a character does something surprising. Surprises add interest and zest:-)

    Thank you so very much for checking in on me over at my blog. You put a smile in my heart and hauled me out of the rut.

    Have a blessed Sunday, Jill!

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    • It’s so good to hear from you, Elaine. I was worried. I’m sorry you’ve had a rough time lately, but hopefully there are brighter days ahead. I loved that you finished my title with, “and carry on.” That’s what we have to do in life, get through those rough times so we can appreciate the good times that eventually become great memories. Take care of yourself, Elaine. xo

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  19. Excellent post jill. I am so sorry for broken pipe experience, and I adore you for making it into a beautiful post. Positivity in life helps us all and I do agree there are people worse off than us in worse conditions. I hope everything will dry up and the damage is not too extensive. I have had a similar experience and we were out of town. Thanks to the neighbors, they helped us a lot. Your laptop is fine, that’s great news. LOL! I had a surprise this week when my eyes started to water and got blurry and reddish. I went to see my eye specialist and I was hoping to get glasses since I always wanted to wear stylish glasses to look scholarly. But to my surprise he said it was fatigue from watching too much screen. He will make me computer glasses but that’s not cool since I cannot wear them outside. So no screen time for me for a week. I like funny surprises which always happen with me, and I think they make the story very interesting. Take care Jill and I hope everything will be fine.

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    • Thank you for your kind words, Samina. I’m sorry to hear you’ve had a similar experience with a burst pipe. I’m glad your neighbors were able to help you. LOL…I laughed when I read your comment about wanting to wear glasses. You’re lucky you’re not dependent on them. I always had great vision and then I hit 45 and I couldn’t read the newspaper without glasses. I guess you could always just wear glasses without prescription lens when you’re out and about, but I’m sure you don’t need them to look stylish! 🙂 I hope you’re able to rest your eyes.

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      • Thanks Jill. I put a smile on your face, it’s great. At the same time it’s true I have been bugging my optometrist to make me eye glasses and I got a lecture of half hour from him on this, and he does not want me to have a scholarly look. End of the story. I respect what you have said and will follow that. Thanks once again my friend. Take care and God bless.

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  20. Well, hopefully this note finds you dryer than you were two days ago! We just got back from the movie Last Vegas – the writing has some great examples of responses that surprise – not to mention cracked us up. Fun, fun.

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    • We’re dried out and so is the bottle of red wine that exploded from the heaters and fans…all over the white carpet. 🙂 I’ve heard about that movie, it looks very funny and a great cast. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

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  21. so sorry to hear about the pipe. I recently had a similar experience. My washing machine, which was above my kitchen flooded my kitchen on a Saturday night. It happened to be the weekend when my partner was out of town. My first instinct was to ignore it, but you can’t really ignore water gushing through the ceiling. I do like how this made you think about your writing. You can learn from almost every experience.

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    • I’m not laughing at the fact that your washing machine flooded the kitchen, but your first instinct to ignore it was hilarious. It’s kind of hard to ignore gushing water. 🙂 It really amazes me how the water travels in various directions. I hope your experience wasn’t too costly.

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  22. Oh Jill! What an awful surprise for you! Glad your laptop was spared!!! So sorry about that! Yes, some surprises you don’t want. (Like the time I walked out to my car and discovered someone had stolen my license plate. Surprise! Or the time my dad went out to check his car and discovered the car had been stolen. Surprise!)

    I love how you tied this experience to writing. I like to be surprised too. I also like some predictability if it comes through events foreshadowed. I don’t like a sudden character change–a loving person suddenly turning evil–if that comes out of the blue. It sounds too much like a writer going for shock value. However, if we see hints of a dark streak, the tension builds. Then if something surprising occurs, it’s believable and grounded.

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    • Thanks, L. Marie! It would have been horrible if my laptop had suffered damage. It reminds me…I need to backup some of my writing. Ugh, having your license plate or your car stolen is definitely not a good surprise.

      I’m with you on sudden character changes. Sprinkling hints throughout the story is a better way to make the surprise more believable.

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  23. I don’t think I’m a fan of surprises but I am getting used to them kerfuffling my well laid plans. The only exception is when someone surprises me with a gift I wanted but didn’t tell them I wanted–that’s a very pleasant surprise.

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  24. Hi Jill, it’s funny, although I think of myself a lot of the time as an adventurous person who loves to try new things, I spend a lot of time doing relatively solitary work with my computer and piano, and if I ever experience a problem with one of those items, it feels like a very unwelcome surprise indeed. I think I could use a trip to Borneo or somewhere relatively untainted by industrialization, without Internet access, to reduce my dependency on those things.

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    • Hi Chris, I think many of us feel the same. I know I could definitely benefit from some serious unplugged time. A visit to the rain forest in Borneo might be just what the doctor ordered! Have a great week and congratulations on your latest backgrounds…they look great!

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  25. I’m like you – I enjoy a good fictional surprise, but I like my life to be boring and predictable most of the time.

    Glad you’re all okay and your laptop is dry! We once had our furnace back up and fill our entire house with smoke – luckily we were out of town at the time, and not asleep or anything…could have been much worse. It ended up being kind of an adventure because we had to live in a hotel for two weeks until our house was habitable again. 🙂

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  26. Much like you (and many other readers here), I prefer my surprises to be in the stories I read, not in my real life. I also don’t like being the center of attention, whether it’s at a party or a work meeting. You do make excellent points about the weight and frequency of surprises in fiction. I have felt exhausted after reading a novel where the characters were beset by one game-changing surprise after another. I like action, I like surprises, but I like them in moderation and I like the opportunity to reflect on them.

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  27. I love your writing tips….they always make me think. I hope everything is okay with your house!

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  28. Pingback: Under Construction | Jill Weatherholt

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